Four anti-slavery activists were arrested in Manhattan today in hopes of drawing attention to the continued government-sponsored slavery of black animists and Christians in Sudan.
Guardian Angels founder Curtis Sliwa, his sister and former New York City police officer Maria Sliwa, Dr. Charles Jacobs of the American Anti-Slavery Group and radio talk-show host Roy Vogel were taken into custody today for blocking pedestrian traffic on a public street in front of the Sudan Mission to the United Nations.
The protest was organized by the American Anti-Slavery Group of Boston in response to slave raids on African villages. Some of the activists recently returned from a trip to South Sudan where they witnessed the redemption of 2,953 black slaves.
Said Jacobs, “Just two weeks ago, I promised the slaves I met in Sudan that we would not rest until the slave trade is stopped. New York City is the gateway to freedom for millions of Americans. We should not let slavers operate freely in this citadel of freedom”
Also participating in the demonstration that led to the arrests were Rabbi Joseph Potasnik of the Counsel of the New York Board of Rabbis, Franciscan Father James Goode of the National Black Catholic Clergy and other members of the public.
Located at 655 Third Ave., between 41st and 42nd Streets in New York City, the Sudan Mission to the United Nations was the chosen venue for the latest acts of civil disobedience, reminiscent of America’s civil-rights movements that led to the end of apartheid in South Africa.
A featured speaker at the event was former Sudanese slave Francis Bok. Speaking through a bullhorn, Bok encouraged the public to demand freedom for those in bondage in Africa.
“I am here today in front of Sudan’s office because when I was 9 years old, the government of Sudan sent Arab militia to attack my village. They killed my parents and many others. They took me and all the children and women they could and made us slaves. I was given to the brother of the raid leader. His name is Giemma Abdullah. For 10 years, I was his slave. He and all his family beat me every day with sticks,” Bok told the crowd.
“They called me Abeed, ‘black slave,’ and they made me sleep with the goats. They told me I was an animal and had to sleep with animals. They gave me bad food so I would vomit. They did this to make themselves laugh,” he continued.
Bok escaped in 1996, and now works with AASG in the United States. He objects to the United States allowing a presence for Sudan through the U.N. Mission.
“This is America, the home of the brave and the land of the free. This is New York, the home of the free-est people in the world. We do not want the slavers to have an office here. The mayor should have them arrested. They are murdering and enslaving my people. They are committing crimes against humanity,” he remarked.
Police were present at the rally, for which participants had obtained permits. But when several of the protesters formed a human chain across the width of an oversized sidewalk, police warned them not to block public traffic. Having notified police in advance of their peaceful protest, demonstrators respectfully declined and waited for the inevitable arrests to take place.
Though he could not attend the protest, 80-year-old Father Daniel Berrigan — known for decades as a leader in anti-war protests and practitioner of civil disobedience — issued a written statement in support of the event that was read to the crowd.
“The conditions under which Sudanese Christians are suffering, are indeed a horror, an atavistic throwback to the worship of a savage deity. Such a ‘god’ demands blood and tears and dishonor and rape and slavery. Such ‘religion’ must be exposed and denounced. It is a vile mockery of truth. It demonizes and seeks to destroy those of other faiths, even as it crushes beyond recognition, the humanity of its warriors,” Berrigan wrote.
Today’s arrests come just one day after a hearing on the trespassing charges against D.C. radio personality Joe Madison, former D.C. congressional delegate and Black Caucus founder Rev. Walter Fauntroy, and former Reagan administration official Michael Horowitz. The three men were arrested April 13 after they handcuffed themselves to the entrance of the Sudanese Embassy.
The activists hope their arrests, combined with their choice of high-profile attorneys, will serve to further public awareness of their cause. Represented by none other than former Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr and Johnnie Cochran of O.J. Simpson fame, the group on May 15 will ask D.C. Superior Court Judge Anna Blackburne-Rigsby for a jury trial to be set prior to July, when drought conditions in Sudan are likely to worsen hunger.
“The revival of slavery in Sudan has been well-documented since the mid-1980s,” said Cochran in a written statement released yesterday. Cochran and colleagues Barry Scheck and Peter Neufeld — also part of Simpson’s famed defense team — are representing Horowitz, but were not in court yesterday.
Starr, who appeared on behalf of all three defendants in yesterday’s brief hearing, said, “The key here is to bring public attention to the tragedy that is here and now.” Starr and his law partner Mike Jones are representing Fauntroy and Madison.
That tragedy is the ongoing slave trade in conjunction with Sudan’s decades-old civil war. For nearly 12 years, the extremist National Islamic Front has ruled in Khartoum, Sudan’s capital, forcing dissidents off their native lands and funding slavery rackets that have victimized inhabitants in the southern regions of the country. Though the civil war is roughly half a century old, the last 12 years under the NIF have been waged over oil, pitting a ragtag coalition of Muslim, Christian and Animist resistance groups against the smaller but well-armed Islamic regime. The conflict has cost Americans more than $1.2 billion in humanitarian relief efforts and has been filled with detailed accounts of atrocities, including surprise raids, kidnappings, rapes and beatings. It has prompted controversial slave “redemption” efforts by groups such as Christian Solidarity International and gained the attention of the United Nations and Amnesty International.
Last summer, AASG and other humanitarian groups formed a coalition called the Sudan Campaign and canvassed Capitol Hill, as well as the media, drawing attention to the war-torn region through personal testimonies of former slaves, including Bok.
The campaign has seen positive results. After two years of requesting an audience with the U.S. federal government, a joint oversight hearing of the House International Relations Committee was conducted in March to discuss America’s social and economic policy toward Sudan.
The nation’s fundamentalist regime reaps tremendous financial benefit from its oil industry, which funds the attacks on dissidents, say observers. Attacks include bombings of civilian targets, such as churches and schools, as well as starvation tactics. Many believe the most effective means of stopping the slave trade is to dry up its funding through divestment from the nation’s oil industry. The largest participant in the Sudan oil game is China, which owns huge portions of the oil rights there.
Several months ago, the state of New York divested its shares of Talisman Energy, Inc. — another large oil company profiting in Sudan. The state’s Common Retirement Fund sold all its holdings in the company, said State Comptroller H. Carl McCall, because, “I cannot allow the pension fund to profit from the blood and suffering of those forced to live in slavery in Sudan.”
“As long as one single man, woman or child remains in slavery, all of us have that chain around our own necks. We cannot, as Americans who have rid our nation of the scourge of slavery, sit idly by as our fellow human beings are enslaved in Sudan,” he continued. “But we must do more. Our nation celebrates freedom, but for thousands upon thousands of those held in the bonds of slavery, freedom is light they cannot see and can hardly dream of. As Americans, we must bring that light, that hope of freedom to the Sudan and to any corner of the world where human beings are forced to live and labor in captivity for a master with no respect for human rights and human dignity.”
Similarly, the city of New York recently divested its shares of Talisman.
Encouraging active American participation in the fight against Sudan’s slave trade, McCall quoted Abraham Lincoln, who said, “The bulwark of our own liberty and independence … is in the spirit which prized liberty as the heritage of all men, in all lands everywhere.”
Those who were arrested were taken to a nearby holding cell, known as “the cage,” and were booked for their act of civil disobedience.