In London, a judge acquitted eight anti-arms trade protesters who tried to disrupt the Defence & Security Equipment International (DSEI) event at Stratford's ExCel Centre last September, District Judge Angus Hamilton accepted the defendants’ argument that they had tried to prevent a greater crimes, such as genocide and torture, from occurring by blocking a road to stop tanks and other armoured vehicles from arriving at the exhibition centre. The campaigners, who chained themselves outside the ExCeL centre, had been charged by the Crown Prosecution Service with blocking a highway.
Witnesses described the role of the arms trade in facilitating the repressive Bahrani regime, in Saudi Arabia’s bombing campaign over Yemen, and with Turkey’s internal repression of its Kurdish population. The judge said the evidence of illegal weapons sales had been left unchallenged by the prosecution and that such sales would potentially break arms control laws. “There is clear, credible and largely unchallenged evidence from the expert witnesses of wrongdoing at DSEI and compelling evidence that it took place in 2015," he said. “It was not appropriately investigated by the authorities. This could be inferred from the responses of the police officers, that they did not take the defendants’ allegations seriously.” He also said there was no evidence of an investigation by authorities into whether illegal arms were being sold at the trade show.
Raj Chada, the lawyer who represented the defendants said the Government was turning “a blind eye” to unlawful activity at DSEI. “It is clear that there are no proper checks at DSEI from any state agency. The government has turned a blind eye not only to the unlawful activity at DSEI, but also to the consequences of a trade that is killing thousands in Yemen and elsewhere. It is shameful that the government did not act – and our clients felt that they had to,” he said.
Adeela Khan, another defence lawyer in the case, added “Critically, the government’s continued failings to stop the illegal exhibition of certain equipment used for torture or the sale of weapons to regimes that the UK knows are committing human rights abuses clearly demonstrates its inability to enforce its own law in this area. Our clients therefore feel justified in their action and make no apology for raising the public’s attention to this event.”
The ruling comes as the Government ignores calls from the House of Commons International Development Committee and the European Parliament to impose an arms embargo on Saudi Arabia, which has been accused of committing war crimes in its bombing campaign against Houthi rebels in Yemen. Sales of British bombs to Saudi Arabia surged from £9m to more than £1bn in the three months before DSEI took place, according to Government arms export licence statistics.
Andrew Smith of Campaign Against Arms Trade said: “At the same time as the defendants were being arrested for peaceful protest, the arms dealers were working with civil servants to sell even more weapons. It should never have been campaigners in the dock this week, not when UK arms are being sold to dictatorships and human rights abusers, and when UK fighter jets and bombs have been so central to the destruction of Yemen. Arms fairs like DSEI can never be right or acceptable, and we all have a role to play in shutting them down for good.”