/ 17 August 2012

Anger grows over invite to Tony Blair

A protester in London epitomises the sentiment against the former British prime minister
A protester in London epitomises the sentiment against the former British prime minister

Blair will be in the country to participate in the Discovery Invest Leadership Summit.

"Various Muslim organisations are in talks about possible actions that will be carried out should Tony Blair visit South Africa," said Mustafa Darsot, a member of the South African Muslim Network executive committee. "This includes protest marches outside the summit venue, possible sit-ins and legal action against Mr Blair. We have also asked various legal professionals to look at the feasibility of having a warrant of arrest issued against him."

Blair will join several big names, including Nobel Peace laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu, chess master Garry Kasparov and Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan at the annual event, which will take place in Sandton on August 30.

Darsot said the network and several other organisations had written to Discovery Group founder and chief executive officer Adrian Gore urging him to withdraw the invitation to Blair. They did not believe he was "fit to lecture on leadership" because of his key role in the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

"Mr Blair is complicit in the murder of thousands of people in Iraq and should be tried for war crimes," Darsot said. "He violated the trust and responsibility of his office and it was his cosy and illegitimate relationship with the [Rupert] Murdoch press that prevented much of the truth about his role in the invasion of Iraq and murder of its citizens from being revealed in the press."

But Iona Maclean, head of Discovery Life and Discovery Invest Marketing, said the invitation to Blair would not be withdrawn.

"The Discovery Invest Leadership Summit brings together a range of leaders to debate the challenges that face the world's economy, business, government and society," she said. "The event is not intended to reflect a political view or cause offence. Discovery Invest selected the speakers based on their experience as leaders from various spheres of society and we will not be withdrawing our invitation to any of the speakers."

Patrick Bond, director of the Centre for Civil Society at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, said there was no question that Blair could be prosecuted for a "crime of aggression".

 "The website arrestblair.org spells out Blair's role in recent mass murder from the Middle East to Central Asia," he said (See "Make a citizen's arrest and be rewarded").

"Since Pretoria politicians justifiably complain that the International Criminal Court mainly prosecutes African tyrants, leaving European and American war criminals to travel the world gathering huge speaking fees, some action by Foreign Minister Maite Nkoane-Mashabane would reduce the talk left, walk right accusation against South Africa. She might simply follow the recent lead of Malawian President Joyce Banda, who warned Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir to stay away from Lilongwe on threat of arrest."

Bond said if Nkoane-Masha­bane did not intervene, South Afri­cans who viewed Blair as a war criminal could attempt a citizen's arrest.

Disproportionate obsession
A spokesperson for the department of international relations and co-operation refused to respond to Bond's comments.

Meanwhile, at a press briefing held earlier this week, Deputy Minister of International Relations Ebrahim Ebrahim again discouraged South Africans from visiting Israel.

His comments were condemned by the South African Jewish Board of Deputies, which said in a joint statement with the office of the chief rabbi and the South African Zionist Federation that they were "indicative of a highly discriminatory and disproportionate obsession with the Jewish state".

But a group of prominent Jews, including Shereen Usdin, Alan Horwitz and Robert Freeman, distanced themselves from the statement and added that, "in fact, we strongly support the progressive position our government has taken".

"Trips organised by the Israeli lobby present a biased picture of Israel and seek to whitewash Israeli human rights abuses.

"As the South African government has already proposed, visits should only be undertaken if they are to genuinely pursue the peace process," they said in a statement.

Make a citizen's arrest and be rewarded

South Africans who attempt a "­citizen's arrest" of Tony Blair could claim about R300 00 from the website arrestblair.org as a reward for their efforts. According to the site, donations it receives from supporters (the total is nearly £10 000) are used to pay bounties for attempts to arrest the former British prime minister.

Anyone attempting an arrest is entitled to one-quarter of the money collected at the time of his or her application. South Africans would certainly qualify, said the founder of the website, Guardian columnist George Monbiot.

"The same rules apply everywhere on Earth. Anyone who abides by the conditions we lay out on the website is entitled to one-quarter of the money in the kitty at the time of the claim." So what exactly are the conditions?

According to the rules listed on the site, the attempt should be non-violent and cause no injury to Blair and those around him. It should also be reported in at least one mainstream outlet as a way of ensuring that it has political consequences and the claimant, who needs to apply for the award within 28 days of the attempt, must provide proof that he or she is the subject of the report.

Arrest attempt
If several people are involved in a single arrest attempt, or if more than one person makes an attempt at the same event, one-quarter of the total pot is to be shared between them. Performing a citizen's arrest seems simple enough.

The method recommended by the site is "to calmly approach Mr Blair and in a gentle fashion to lay a hand on his shoulder or elbow, in such a way that he cannot have any cause to complain of being hurt or trapped by you, and announce loudly: 'Mr Blair, this is a citizen's arrest for a crime against peace, namely your decision to launch an unprovoked war against Iraq.

I am inviting you to accompany me to a police station to answer the charge.'" To date, three individuals have received awards from the site for trying to arrest Blair. In September 2010, Kate O' Sullivan was sent a cheque for £3129.02.

At a book signing in Ireland, she told Blair she was arresting him. More recently, Tom Grundy, a Briton living in Hong Kong, walked up to Blair during an address at a local university and said: "Mr Blair, under Hong Kong's Power 101 law, the law which allows for citizen's arrest here, I'll be arresting you for crimes against peace." It is not clear yet whether Grundy will receive arrestblair.org's fourth award.