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3 February 2005 Edition

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Time hasn't dimmed the demand for the truth

BY FERN LANE

As John Kelly, whose brother Michael was murdered on Bloody Sunday, stood before the 10,000 people who had gathered at Free Derry Corner to mark the 33rd anniversary of the killings, he began his address with three simple sentences that eloquently summed up the pain and injustice he and his family have had to suffer since 1972.

"My brother Michael was murdered by Soldier F," he said. "For the past 32 years I have been forced to live with the fact that his killer is considered heroic, an honoured servant of the Crown, and that his commanding officer was decorated ten months later by the British head of state, Queen Elizabeth the Second. Time hasn't changed any of these realities."

But there is, he said, another reality which has gone unacknowledged by the British state in its eagerness to laud members of the Parachute Regiment; the genuine heroism of those who took part in the march for civil rights on 30 January 1972.

"Those killed and injured were ordinary people who stood for justice and civil rights for all but whose demands could not be tolerated by London, by the Unionist government in Stormont, by the British Army and by the RUC." Unlike their killers, those who died were not decorated, he said. "Instead, their names and faces were flashed around the world as gunmen and bombers."

Speaking about the Saville Inquiry, he said that the process had been an extremely difficult one for the families. It had been "traumatising, and at times exhausting". And although there was some sense of achievement for the families, there was still "the bitterness and injustice usually associated with the British judicial system and the Irish people".

Especially difficult, he said, was the fact that "many of the families for the first time came face to face with the planners, the commanders and executioners of our loved ones and whilst this was a necessary part of the inquiry process, it was probably the most difficult. We again bore witness to the lies, the pretence and the arrogance which encapsulated the outcome of the first inquiry in 1972."

Call for Doherty release

He also spoke about the collective outrage amongst the Bloody Sunday families over the imprisonment of Martin 'Ducksie' Doherty, and called on the British Secretary of State, Paul Murphy, to order his immediate release. Doherty, a local republican, was convicted last month for refusing to appear before the Saville Inquiry to answer questions about Bloody Sunday, despite his statement that he was not present on the day.

The sentence imposed on Doherty, said John Kelly, was "perpetration of the injustice. It is shameful and a sheer disgrace which has stained the integrity of the Bloody Sunday Inquiry. Thousands of witnesses questioned, millions of pounds spent, prime ministers and the elite of the British establishment proven as liars, and the outcome so far? One Derry man imprisoned."

He said there were some fundamental questions that will need to be answered in Lord Saville's report: "Does the Inquiry accept that the 14 men and boys were actually murdered and that they, and all those wounded by gunfire on that day, are innocent of charges of being gunmen and bombers? Who murdered them, and who gave the order that they be murdered? What is the legal status of any finding of murder, manslaughter or the wholesale use of torture and degrading treatment on civilians taken prisoner on that day? Above all, will the current British Government acknowledge and accept responsibility for the actions of its army on Bloody Sunday?"

With John Kelly on the platform were Sinn Féin Chairman, Mitchel McLaughlin MLA, Dr Jamal Zahalka, a Palestinian member of the Israeli Knesset, Dominic Bradley MLA of the SDLP and the daughter of John Davey, the Magherafelt Sinn Féin Councillor murdered in 1989 by loyalists as he returned home from a council meeting.

Palestinian solidarity

Dr Zahalka, acknowledging that the famous Free Derry Corner mural had been painted in the colours of the Palestinian flag for the duration of the Bloody Sunday commemoration said: "We look forward to the day when we destroy the great wall of apartheid built in Palestine and build a new, small wall which has written on it 'You are Now Entering Free Palestine'."

He spoke about the Palestinian Bloody Sunday, in October 2000, when Israeli police killed 14 unarmed demonstrators and about the disturbing similarities with the events in Derry in 1972.

"In both cases, demonstrators were not treated as citizens but as enemies; in both cases no one from the security forces was punished for the murders," he said. "The questions we are asking and the questions you are asking are the same: why did it happen? Who carried out the shooting? Who gave the orders? Who directed them? From how far up the chain of command did the orders originate? Where did it fit into political policy? We know the truth, as you know the truth, but both of us want them to admit it."

Sinn Féin Chair Mitchel McLaughlin recalled that he had been present on Bloody Sunday when the Parachute Regiment had been unleashed on the citizens of Derry in order to teach them a lesson. That lesson, he said, was "to teach uppity Fenians that failure to obey British law would have dire consequences".

As well as the dead and injured, he said, truth was also a casualty of the events of 30 January 1972, "and the denial of truth is the denial of justice".

"The intention was to teach us a harsh lesson, and indeed we were taught a lesson that day. Actually we learned a number of lessons. As we began to count and identify our dead and wounded, the British Government was already telling the world that a gun battle had erupted in the republican stronghold of the Bogside and that a number of republican gunmen and bombers had been killed".

A compliant media, he continued, perpetuated and spread the lie. "No need for evidence as, after all, only the IRA could mount such an assault on the British Army and only the 'superior fieldcraft' of the British Army saved them from injury or worse. No need then for doubts, no need for questions.

Lessons learned

"Yes, we learned lessons that day, but not the ones which were intended. Because we emerged even stronger and even more determined. We learned that our oppressors owned the law and they owned substantial and influential sections of the communications and media industry.

"We learned that when the lawmakers are also the lawbreakers, then there is no law. We also learned that there will be an official version of every single event, which is reported in the media, and then there is the truth. That is why we are here today, not just demanding freedom for Ducksie Doherty, we are also demanding that the truth be set free, the truth about Bloody Sunday."

Referring to the theme of the commemorative weekend, Time for Truth: From Bogside to Basra, McLaughlin said that the truths leaned in Derry as a result of Bloody Sunday were equally applicable in Palestine and in Baghdad and Basra. Since 1972, he added, human rights had been further eroded by governments both in Ireland and in other places of conflict. "The current, most graphic illustrations of this are witnessed on a daily basis in Palestine and Iraq," he said. "We hear personal accounts about human rights abuses and torture in Belmarsh Prison and Guantanamo Bay".

But, he said, in the search for justice for those who were murdered on Bloody Sunday, "we must not be deterred by a political establishment that pays lip service to democracy whilst playing fast and loose with human rights, with civil liberties and the truth".

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