Eighth Report from Gangjeong 16th March 2012

en

So much to tell you. I started writing this inside the police station and then the Immigration Centre and now am back at Father Moon's home finishing it. It is so good to be back and free again.

Monday 12th March.

Up early as usual by 5.30 a.m. for the blockade at the main gate. Beautiful clear day with the Halla mountain in the background. Slight scuffles with the crowd not wanting police to take pictures of them, then a Catholic Mass at 10 a.m. I took pics and then quickly went to the community centre to get an internet connection and catch up on emails. Back to the blockade – still going strong – great sushi rolls of rice and veg and drinks handed out to everyone to keep them going, exercises, dances, songs, speeches - the amount of background support work is incredible.

Around 3 p.m. I hitched a ride with a friend in the p.a. van around to the port where the SOS team (the water based group) were attempting to get their kayaks out of the port and into the Gureombi area. I changed vans to the SOS van with the kayaks in it (as I am now a member of this group too) and was treated to a mad, terrifying, accelerated rush around the port roads to find a place to launch the kayaks, the police rushing around after us to try to prevent the launch. Eventually 2 kayaks were thrown into the water and 2 activists jumped in after them. I threw them the paddles and they were soon off, to be surrounded by police launches. This kept the attention on them while priests and crowds gathered at the port for their mass.

There must have been about 200 people gathered at the port and suddenly we set off and overwhelming the few dozen police who were still protecting the entrance we threaded our way past them and through some smallish tetra-pods (the location of which is not according to the development plans and are being challenged in the courts). We approached some razor wire, rocks and a huge concrete pier. One of the church ministers managed somehow to scale the wall of the pier and get a rope down and so about 50 of us clambered over the rocks and up the rope. I am terrified of heights but with so much willing help I was soon hauled up by 5 or 6 strong men.

Then followed a most extraordinary hour.

Around 40 people were suddenly transformed into priests – their pristine white robes with purple and gold mantles worn over their ordinary clothes.

Some of the priests stayed below on the rocks with the majority of the congregation and the nuns, where a makeshift altar appeared with a p.a. system. One of the nuns started a song and prayers and mass followed. By this time a large contingent of police had appeared at the foot of the pier but they let the mass proceed.
There is a certain reluctance to arrest priests while actually in the middle of their prayers.

I persuaded one priest to climb up the lighthouse at the end of the pier and he said his mass from the heights, in full view of the whole port.

Meanwhile, some of the early SOS team who had been on the rocks from early morning suddenly entered the site and started to climb up a digger. We saw Seri (a Korean musician) and Benjie (a French activist) climb right on top and stop the work of the crane that was drilling the rock to prepare it for blasting to enable the caissons to be placed. This was a brilliant action that everyone loved and it was effective at stopping the work too. We later learnt that both of them had been assaulted by the Daelim and Samsung workers. Seri had her knee twisted very badly and her neck strained too.

After the mass, we were joined by quite a few of the SOS team who had managed to get to the pier by swimming once their kayaks had been seized. We all decided to climb down from the pier on the Gureumbi rock side and go to the sacred rocks with them. I was suddenly presented with a pair of bolt-croppers (that I had asked for several days previously) and it was clear that I needed to get down too. But I could see no way down the pods that I could manage. I tried to overcome my fear with several people helping me but I just froze up. Finally, the Minister who had spent the night with me and Sung-Hee on the 7th March, when we hid during the dark hours in the smaller tetra-pods, and who knew of my fear, found a couple of people to help me down. I was taken by the arms and lowered onto their shoulders and then they slowly crouched down and I was taken off by another and managed to scramble through a route at the bottom of the pods and onto the rocks. There was a huge cheer and more willing hands helped me for 20 minutes to get onto Gureombi proper. What a relief!

There were now about 30 of us on the rocks before the wire and only me with cutters. The penalty for damaging the fence is very high and although everyone wanted the fence cut no-one was really ready to take the risks. So, I started cutting and made a hole big enough to get some people through. This first cut was a surprise to the police and therefore several people managed to enter before the police interposed their bodies to stop more getting through. I went on to make other holes and as I worked police came to guard each hole. I made my way slowly down the fence cutting as much as I could each time. The police tried to snatch the cutters away but the razor wire was an impediment and I stopped before it became too easy for them. A police photographer soon appeared and took plenty of footage. I was told to stop but just stated that the fence was illegal and was stopping the public from their right to pray at their sacred rocks. By this time I was getting really tired and asked if anyone else would like to help. One brave priest took the cutters and started to help me and we took it in turns. We must have cut at least 10 holes when it started getting dark. I passed my cutters to a friend so they could be hidden and used again in the future and made my way back to where Father Moon was lying half in and half out of one of the holes. Father Moon is a very famous priest here since his work with the labour movement during the democracy movement protests under the military dictatorship in the 1980's and currently with his passionate denunciations of the naval base.

As night fell, Father Moon was eventually allowed inside the destruction site and I quickly followed and was arrested at 7 p.m. for destruction of private property and trespass. I walked over the rocks to the police car as it would have been dangerous for the police to have to carry me on this occasion.

The friendly translator was there again at Seogwipo police station and he laughed appreciatively when I told him that today I was 'Save Gureombi From War Preparations'. Refusing to answer any questions I was quickly on my way to Jeju City Police station .

Tuesday 13th March

I spent the next 2 days getting to know my other 3 cell mates better. There had been 16 of us eventually arrested with 2 released immediately as they were under 21. 4 of us were women and shared a cell. Apples and strawberries (in season here in Jeju at present), chocolates, a couple of books in English and Korean papers were sent in by supporters and we had visits from lawyers and villagers. We exchanged life stories as Seri spoke good English. One of the women (about 56 years old) told of her work in the democracy movement in the 1980's and her continuing work against militarisation and for unification.

Wednesday 14th March

By 2p.m. most of those arrested had been released and only 2 priests were left plus Benjie, Seri and myself. The lawyer told me that by 7p.m. I would either be released or taken to a court for a judge to decide if I would be detained for a further 10 days for investigation and then several months until trial. I started preparing my presentation as to why I needed to be released to prepare properly for a trial. At around 6p.m. I was told I was to be released, was given my possessions and taken to the exit door …... but was met by a dozen men and women from Immigration with papers who took me to an immigration detention centre.

Poor, over-worked Sung-Hee and the valiant Minbyun lawyer witnessed it all and shouted encouragement. Benjie was also taken but he went straight to a detention centre near Seoul from whence he was deported to Hong Kong but at least he is free now. Seri remained in Jeju City police station but was released around 10a.m. on Thursday 15th March.

Meanwhile, late on the Wednesday I was able to see the lawyer who explained that I could be kept another 48 hours and then there were various options – I could be deported or sent back to prison to await trial. The detention centre was less comfortable than the police station with a small room where I was isolated and with no access to natural light. My clothes were taken from me and I was dressed in a rather smart blue and black jump suit that would have been great to go jogging in but unfortunately there is no access to any outdoors exercise, so, I did some indoor exercises instead.

Late that night I was allowed to receive a call from the British Vice-Consul (Jamie Bend) who was very pleasant and said he had heard of my arrest from the papers, was I in good health, was my family informed and did I need a lawyer. I thanked him and said everything was in hand, explained the issues and situation and said I would contact him if I needed further assistance. I started my hunger strike at 7p.m. (48 hours after being arrested) and said I would continue until released.

Thursday 15th March

After a rather boring but restful morning I was told I had a visitor. And there was Mi-Kyoung a friend from the village with a book for me to learn Hangul and lots of smiles and hugs. She runs a women's shelter in Seogwipo and is part of the SOS team. She gave me a really amazing gift for my family and said I must visit Jeju for a holiday with her and her husband one day when the struggle is over. I feel quite overwhelmed by the generosity, gratitude and love of so many here for so little on my part compared to their daily struggles. From 3 to 6p.m. I was interviewed by the Immigration officers with a Minbyun lawyer present and Regina to help translate.

I admitted to entering the 'destruction' site, cutting the razor wire, taking part in the villagers daily requests to the base to stop blasting Gureombi and to stop building the base. I did not admit to any crimes saying I was upholding international law and trying to prevent preparations for war crimes and crimes against peace, explained about the 1000 US bases, many of which surround China and Russia, and that the US had openly proclaimed their ambition to be the dominant super-power with control over land, sea, air and space, that the US/Korean agreement enabled the US to use any Korean military base in whatever way they wanted and there was evidence to show that they would bring nuclear weapons to the naval base, that US nuclear weapons were illegal etc etc. I also explained that the razor wire was preventing villagers from their lawful access to a sacred site and that I was supporting them.

They said this was not allowed under a tourist visa. But I argued that a tourist was also a human being and had a right to support Korean friends and accompany them in their daily struggles. I also said that all my actions were lawful and the proper place to have a discussion about the unlawful placing of the fence, the contamination of water sources and the issue of war preparations was in a court of law, that I would like to clear my name of the charges against me and urged them to release me so I could argue these points in a court of law before a judge as neither they nor I were lawyers. I said I would prefer not to be deported but to go home on my scheduled flight and would be prepared not to go to the base again or attempt to get onto the Gureombi rocks. We negotiated the terms of my pledge as I said I still needed to be able to have the right of free speech and to talk to people and the press. We were then told to wait half an hour while they discussed it all. Suddenly I was called into a meeting with the Chief Immigration Officer, and after a pep talk, signed a pledge and was released at 9p.m.

I think it was the best compromise I could make and was lucky not to be deported straight away, like Benjie, but if I break the agreement I will be forcibly deported immediately. I always try to keep my promises at all times so that my word can be trusted and so will keep away from the destruction site.

I was greeted by supporters, taken to an art gallery where an exhibition of rock rubbings of the Gureombi was being set up, given an amazing Korean meal and then was brought back to Gangjeong. I was taken to the Town Hall to meet the Mayor who was all smiles and gave me a big hug and asked for a photo. He is on the far left.

Friday 16th March

While spending the morning sorting through my photos and writing out this report I was called out to a meeting in the Peace Centre where the Bishop of Jeju and Priests were holding a mass (yes they do hold masses of mass's) with around 60 or so people in attendance (I wish we could get these numbers out to all our events!). I was asked to speak and expressed my admiration for all they were doing, sympathy and solidarity for the Jesuit father, Kim Jeong Wook, still in custody for the actions of the last few days, how we all needed to overcome our fear of the consequences of disobeying the authorities when we were acting to stop militarisation but that I could be deported and suffered little compared to Koreans who would be facing the worst consequences. I also said that the authorities could deal with one or two people cutting the fence but that if many tens of people did it then the prisons would soon be full and the impact would be much greater. There was a great deal of applause at this. I thanked them all for their actions and solidarity and said I was honoured to have been a part of their struggle – it was of global importance – we are all fighting the same battle – to end the culture of war on our fragile planet. The Bishop translated for me.

There are more interviews lined up and a full day planned for meetings in Seoul. This may well be my last report from Jeju. I hope it has given you a flavour of the struggles going on here.

Please note that since January 2010 there have been over 400 arrests here and this is likely to increase as the blasts continue to destroy the area. If you plan to come and lend your support to the villagers then do not provide your real name or flight details over the internet as you may have heard of the 3 US Veterans who were denied access three days ago. Meanwhile, there are many ways you can help the campaign.

Please sign the Avaaz petition and send it on to your friends – see - http://www.avaaz.org/en/save_jeju_island/

Please keep in touch with the campaign and join the protests outside the Korean Embassy when they take place if you can. Here is a picture of Kate Hudson - General Secretary of CND - outside the South Korean Embassy with Camilla and others yesterday. And remember too that the South Korean corporation Samsung is the lead contractor building the Navy base on Jeju. Boycott Samsung!

Love and peace, Angie.

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