Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison acknowledged today that his arrest along with four other members of Congress was a deliberate action designed to draw attention to recent developments in Darfur.
"We're trying to call attention to the appalling decision of the Khartoum government in Sudan to expel 13 relief agencies that are serving over 1.1 million people in the Darfur region," Ellison said in an interview with MPR's Tom Crann. "Our arrests were designed to add a little bit of urgency to the situation."
"That is a dramatic condition, which requires some dramatic action," Ellison added. "Five members of congress getting arrested is a news-getting event. This morning, they weren't talking about this issue on the news, and this afternoon, after we were arrested, they are."
Ellison, along with Georgia Reps. John Lewis of Georgia, Donna Edwards of Maryland, Jim McGovern of Massachusetts and Lynn Woolsey of California were arrested in Washington D.C. this morning, while participating in a protest in front of the Sudanese Embassy in Washington.
They were criticizing the president of Sudan for alleged atrocities in the country and for expelling aid agencies from Darfur.
Jauert said the group planned the arrest to bring attention to the situation in Darfur.
"It leaves these people with no lifeline whatsoever. So that is why the Congressman and the other members of Congress have decided that they need to do something that hopefully will bring a heightened awareness to what is happening," said Jauert.
Ellison said he was arrested for civil disobedience, paid a fine and was released. He told Crann this was his first "political" arrest, but did not elaborate.
Ellison, a DFLer whose 5th Congressional District includes the city of Minneapolis, said it is wrong to deprive aid to what he calls "the most vulnerable people on our planet."
Minnesota Republican Party Chair Ron Carey called Ellison's action a publicity stunt.
"It's certainly a serious issue of genocide. Nobody can condone genocide, but as a member of Congress, I think Congressman Ellison has the responsibility to be a role model and set an example," Carey said. "What does it say to other citizens when you have a congressman who is blatantly, on purpose, violating the law?"
The United Nations says up to 300,000 people have died in Darfur, where ethnic African rebel groups have been fighting the Arab-dominated national government for six years.