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  • Rhianna Louise

John Pilger & Benjamin Zephaniah join Chagossian call for justice

‘The Chagossian exile is an affront to democracy. We need radical campaigning action now.’

These were powerful words from John Pilger, the internationally renowned journalist and documentary filmmaker, as he stood in front of a packed room at the Barbican in London on Wednesday. We were there to watch one of his most acclaimed documentaries, which tells the story of the expulsion of the native Chagossian people from their islands.

See video highlights of the the event on the right, including excerpts from speechs by John Pilger, Benjamin Zephaniah and Chagossian leaders.

Eleven years have passed since Stealing a Nation was first aired, and yet the Chagossian struggle for justice faced with the wilful amnesia of British politicians continues today. The British and American conspiracy to expel a population of two thousand people to make way for an American military base rightly evokes universal anger and disgust, -feelings which were tangible in the audience that night.

Writer and poet Benjamin Zephaniah, who is a patron of the Chagos Support Association, opened the evening by sharing his fervent support for the Chagossian people’s right to return to Diego Garcia. Zephaniah was once a prominent anti-apartheid activist. As he remembered how those campaigning against apartheid were once maligned and marginalised, he compared that long and finally successful fight to the struggle of the Chagossian people. While the documentary unfolded, the multiple layers of duplicity and corruption that have characterised the entire saga of abuse of power by British and American governments around the Chagos islands sent waves of shock and indignation through the audience. The attempts to cover up, disperse and effectively silence voices of dissent from the Chagossian people and those who support their struggle have clearly been unsuccessful. This scandal is raw and undisguisable.

After the documentary, we heard from a panel of experts on Chagos, including Hengride Permal and Sabrina Jean, both campaigners and members of the Chagossian community. We saw the determination of these women who are taking forward the struggle, now that many members of the generation before them have died before seeing justice. We heard how the British government continues to divide Chagossian families, as children are not given passports and so are kept apart from their parents. We heard of the profound pain of funerals when members of the community die in exile and cannot be buried with their family on Diego Garcia and the other Chagos Islands.

We heard these impassioned words: ‘Britain is not our home. Mauritius is not our home. The Chagos Islands is our home.’ Throughout the evening, the overriding message was the desperate need to get the word out. As the fifty year lease of Diego Garcia given by Britain to America is up for renewal next year, and now that a feasibility study has disproved any claims that return is not possible (link to more info), it is paramount that the people of Britain rally behind the Chagossian struggle. So what can you do? - Write to your MP and demand they stand up for justice. If your struggling for what to say, let us know and we'll send you a template letter

- Follow the struggle in this critical period by signing up for our newsletter

- And most importantly, share the story as far and as wide as you can. We need to unite, make a lot of noise and tell our government to it is time to let Chagossians return. Share our 'Chagos in five minutes' page on social media to let people know justice can and must be won now.

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