The Crown Prosecution Service has dropped charges against six activists arrested during a four-hour blockade of London's DSEI arms fair on 8 September 2013. Activists blocked one entrance with their bodies using "lock-ons" and blockaded an HGV at the other entrance. The protest saw military equipment turned away in the final hours of the arms fair's set up.
The activists received high-profile backing, including a letter of support signed by individuals including Caroline Lucas MP, Michael Mansfield QC and Mark Thomas, and over 30 civil society organisations and NGOs, including Stop the Arms Fair and Campaign Against Arms Trade. A solidarity demonstration took place in their support when they appeared in court on 4 November.
The campaigners were arrested for putting their bodies in the way of military equipment entering the DSEI arms fair as it set up for business in London this September. They intended to use their court appearances next week to highlight the real wrong: an arms fair fuelling conflict, repression and human rights abuse.
The issues they intended to highlight included:
- Illegal weaponry: Two exhibitors advertised torture equipment in contravention of UK law. Illegal equipment, including cluster munitions, had also been promoted at the previous two shows, in 2011 and 2009. No prosecutions have taken place.
- Syrian arms suppliers: The Russian Technologies State Corporation (Rostec) owner of Rosoboronexport, which has supplied the majority of Assad's conventional weaponry, was allowed to exhibit at DSEi.
- Repressive and authoritarian attendees: The list of official delegations invited by the UK government included nine countries the UK Foreign Office has identified as having the "most serious wide-ranging human rights concerns," fourteen authoritarian regimes and six countries involved in conflict.
Put simply, the protesters intervened to prevent crimes of torture, crimes against humanity and war crimes. At this point, it seems that the case against the activists was dropped as the authorities do not want to have to face, or deal with, the protesters' questions.
The activists' solicitor, Raj Chada of Hodge Jones & Allen, made some excellent points in saying: "Whilst it is welcome that the case against our clients has been dropped, the real issue is why these arms companies have been allowed to act with impunity.
"We have written to the CPS, HMRC, Attorney General and the Home Secretary to demand that why those that promote these unlawful weapons aren't being prosecuted – total policing does not seem to apply if you are an arms dealer."
A letter, published in the Guardian on 1 November 2013, highlighted the wrongs of the arms fair and said the activists should be "congratulated, not convicted" for their acts of resistance. This stance should be applauded, and supported. And the struggle must continue.
It's not a cause for celebration that the case against us has been dropped. The celebration will come when the arms fair has been shut down for good.
Andrew Smith is media coordinator of the Campaign Against Arms Trade, working to end the international arms trade. You can find out more about the group by clicking here.