IT WAS probably destined to be one of his less high-profile public appearances, but that was before George Clooney ended up handcuffed and in the back of a van belonging to the United States Secret Service.
In a scene reminiscent of something from one of the political thrillers that have helped to make his name, Clooney was arrested during a protest outside the Sudanese embassy in Washington DC yesterday.
Clooney, his father Nick and others, including US Representative Jim Moran of Virginia, civil rights leaders Ben Jealous and Martin Luther King III, were arrested after being warned three times not to cross a police line outside the embassy.
The protesters accuse the Sudanese president, Omar al-Bashir, of provoking a humanitarian crisis and blocking food and aid from entering the Nuba Mountains in the border region with South Sudan.
“I’m just trying to raise attention. Let your Congress know, let your president know,” said Clooney.
“It’s actually a humiliating thing to be arrested, no matter what you do, but I’m glad to be standing here with my father.”
The arrest came after Clooney had earlier this week met President Barack Obama, testified in the Senate and attended a state dinner for Prime Minister David Cameron.
Before his arrest, Clooney said he hoped to draw attention to the crisis in Sudan, adding that he had been impressed by President Obama’s engagement on the issue.
“It’s amazing to sit down with a world leader who knows all of the intricacies of what’s going on in Sudan,” he said.
The actor said he asked Obama to involve China more in pushing for a solution in Sudan. He said international leaders needed to “follow the money” flowing to Sudan’s leaders to expose corruption.
“This is a moment where we have a chance to do something because if we don’t, in the next three to four months, there’s going to be a real humanitarian disaster,” Clooney said.
“It’s such a silly thought to think you’re actually succeeding in any of this,” he said. “But if it’s loud enough and you keep making it loud enough at the very least people will know about it, and you can’t say we didn’t know. That’s the first step.”
Dozens of activists gathered outside the embassy yesterday chanting “Arrest al-Bashir!” and “Bashir to the ICC! (International Criminal Court)”, while officials from neighbouring embassies peered through their blinds.
Mohamed El-Tayeb, 45, a Sudanese exile, said: “It was so important to us that he [Clooney] was here. We get this attention only when he can help. I want to extend my thanks to him”.
In a YouTube video released this week to highlight the Sudan conflict, George Clooney makes an illegal and dangerous trip to the southern reaches of the country, where the actor witnesses what an American activist said was likely a Chinese-made missile sail overhead.
Clooney’s four-minute video highlights attacks on civilians in Sudan’s Nuba Mountains, a region that US officials say could soon suffer a severe hunger crisis. The video followed a YouTube sensation about Joseph Kony, the leader of the brutal Central Africa militia, the Lord’s Resistance Army.
Oil-rich South Sudan and Sudan, the keeper of the pipelines, have been at odds over oil and profits. Exports have stopped, putting pressure on oil prices worldwide.
The Kony video, produced by the advocacy group Invisible Children, has received about 80 million views on YouTube since its launch on 5 March. The video was applauded in some corners for raising awareness about Kony and his group’s attacks on civilians. Critics called the video misleading and accused it of being a fundraising vehicle for an organisation some critics said does not spend enough on ground-level programmes.
Jonathan Hutson, a spokesman for the Enough Project, said Clooney was not aware of the popularity of the Kony video while filming the Nuba people, because he was in Sudan during its release. Clooney is quoted in the Kony video as saying he wants warlords to be as famous as he is, but Clooney was referring to Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir, not Kony.
“The purpose of the four-minute video is for Clooney to give a megaphone for the Nuba people on the ground and to raise awareness,” Mr Hutson said. “Clooney wanted to make sure the Nubans were not portrayed as victims. He wanted to put the spotlight on the voices of civilians on the ground.”