George Clooney arrest shows impact of protests mixing real world, IT world, Hollywood

Clooney snuck into Sudan, got shelled, returned to Washington, got arrested

Twitter and the activist groups that use it to communicate got a new cause célèbre this morning (or a new celebrity of the same cause) as well as a fast-growing hashtag/discussion list, following the arrest of actor George Clooney during a protest at the Sudanese embassy in Washington, D.C. this morning.

Clooney, his father 78-year-old father Nick, Democratic U.S. Rep. Jim Moran of Virginia and NAACP President Ben Jealous were all arrested late this morning after ignoring warnings by police not to approach a police line placed outside the embassy.

Police put up the line to block off crowds expected during protests organized by humanitarian groups the Enough Project and United to End Genocide called the National Day of Action for #Sudan.

The protest began with speeches and chanting just before 9:30. Politicians and activists made most of the speeches but the main draw was Clooney, who was in town to testify before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Wednesday and met with the President and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton yesterday.

Clooney was to headline a protest what activists call a humanitarian crisis caused the government of Sudan president Omar al-Bashir. Activists accuse al-Bashir of creating a humanitarian crisis in the country's Nuba Mountains after forcibly relocating tens of thousands of civilians into "peace villages," guarded by the "brutal" Sudanese army, which also sealed off carting routes into the mountains in what activists called an attempt to starve rebels and political opponents into giving up.

Clooney sneaked into the border area between Sudan and South Sudan last week along with activists from The Enough Project, filming scenes of death and destruction Clooney said were the result of attacks by Sudan government planes and artillery against virtually unarmed villagers.

"It is absolutely without question a war crime that we saw firsthand," Clooney told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Clooney's trip to Sudan, appearances at the Senate and White House and the street protest were part of a coordinated effort to draw attention to the growing humanitarian crisis in the continuing civil war in Sudan and the plight of civilians caught in border areas that are often under fire.

Members of The Enough Project Tweeted updates live during the protest, including news at 10:44 that Clooney and Enough Project chief John Prendergast "formed a blockade in front of the embassy to symbolize #Sudan’s blockade on humanitarian access."

"We're asking the government of Sudan to stop starving its own people," The Enough Project quoted Clooney as saying one minute earlier.

"George Clooney & John Prendergast in handcuffs," crowed an update at 10:50. "Police escorting them away from the embassy."

Clooney, his father and their posse of human-rights and political leaders were taken away by the Secret Service as Clooney's Tweeps launched the hashtag #FreeClooney as a rallying point for both activists and Clooney fans.

No news so far on what, if any, charges will be filed or how effective a staged protest outside the embassy of a minor third-world country can be in generating national interest in a humanitarian crisis if the protest is fronted by a movie star rather than just a regular old political activist.

There are plenty of movie stars with pet political causes, of course. Few have been as committed enough to sneak into war zones or endure rocket attacks, as Enough Project postings said Clooney and Prendergrast had.

Read more of Kevin Fogarty's CoreIT blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Kevin on Twitter at @KevinFogarty. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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