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Stop DSEI arms fair protesters on trial

Jan 30

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30/01/2018 11:49  RssIcon

Guest blog: Bryony Moore on the court proceedings against activists

Last week saw the first trials of over 40 people who were arrested in September while protesting the world’s biggest arms fair, held in central London.

The Defence & Security Equipment International (DSEI) arms fair happens every 2 years. It’s organised by a government body which exists to promote the UK arms trade – the Defence & Security Organisation (DSO), (part of the Department for International Trade).

 

Bryony Moore: Locked on and blockading the entrancy to the arms fair.

 

During the week prior to the DSEI arms fair, protesters gathered at the two entrances to the event, holding banners and singing songs of peace. A large number of people occupied the roads leading to the venue, praying or dancing in the road. 

Numerous blockades also took place over the course of the week. Each day had its own theme, including Faith Day, when Quakers dangled in harnesses from a flyover close to the arms fair, and Stop Arming Israel Day with dabke dancing in the road. There was also a No to Nuclear/ Arms to Renewables Day – which was co-organised by Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) and Trident Ploughshares.

 

Mass arrests

102 people were arrested that week. Most were charged with Wilful Obstruction of the Highway. In the months that followed, some cases were dropped due to a ‘lack of evidence’, but 43 people were given trial dates.

The first two trials took place between 10th-13th January, with all 12 defendants charged with obstruction of the highway.

Eight defendants (including me!) were found guilty and ordered to pay costs of £200 each, despite the judges in both trials admitting that weapons supplied at the arms fair to certain countries were involved in crimes against humanity.

 

Moving testimony

Brigid Mary Oates, one of the defendants from the second trial, is a grandmother and works in Bradford with children who’ve suffered early years trauma. In an incredibly moving moment in court, she recounted an article she’d read in the Independent which compelled her to protest the arms fair. The article shared the heartbreaking experience of a family in Yemen, who had had to choose between taking one malnourished child to hospital for emergency treatment, or feeding their other two children.

Brigid said “When families are forced to choose which child lives and which child dies, laying down in the road to protest is the choice I will make every single time.”

At past DSEI events, illegal torture equipment such as electro-shock stun guns and gang chains were advertised for sale, along with internationally-banned cluster munitions. Amnesty International identified nine companies which violated UK law at DSEI events between 2005-2013. No illegal weapons have been found from 2015 onwards, in part because Amnesty were prevented from attending the last two DSEI events.

 

Oppressive regimes

The DSO invited 56 states to attend DSEI,. Six of these appear on the government’s own list of ‘countries of concern’.

Policing the event is paid by the taxpayer, not the event itself, which is a commercial enterprise paid for by exhibitor fees etc. In 2015, 2,245 officers were deployed, costing over £1 million.

It’s clear that the public don’t want this event – a poll by Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT) on the day of the 2017 DSEI event found that 76% of the public oppose the promotion of arms sales to human rights abusing regimes. The Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has said he is opposed to DSEI but is powerless to stop it.

Ending conflict

Another defendant in Trial 2 was Guillaume Chome who travelled from Belgium to attend the DSEI protest. Guillaume works as a researcher and is also involved in a co-housing project providing homes for 25 people, half of whom are refugees fleeing conflict in a number of different countries.

He said “I have been involved in the peace movement for a few years. Hearing the call for solidarity to protest against the arms fair, I immediately said ‘yes’. It advertises war and death. It is an opportunity for disgraceful regimes and paramilitary organisations to buy weapons. The arms trade is the root that feeds tyranny, state repression and crimes. This despicable event must be stopped.”

Trials from the DSEI 2017 protests continue almost weekly until mid-April. Campaign Against the Arms Trade are keeping up to date with the court proceedings. If you’re in London over the next few months and can show some solidarity outside court, do check out the trial dates on the website.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

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