'I’m guilty of believing that surely at this point in human evolution we can find another way to deal with conflict and to live together, and I'm guilty of hoping that at some point soon, we will'
At Thames Magistrates Court East London yesterday defendants appeared charged with obstructing the highway outside the DSEi arms fair in London on September 8th. They succeeded in their aim to put the arms fair on trial, when their defence counsel indicated they would be subpoenaing representatives of the arms fair, companies kicked out of the fair for illegal weapons sales and defence industry experts after their clients pleaded, not guilty.
A rally was held outside and defendants were supported with a packed public gallery of well-wishers.
The 2013 Arms fair held at the Excel Exhibition Centre in East London was interrupted daily by protesters who’s stated intention was 'to stop the arms fair from setting up by blockading roads used to transport military equipment and weaponry into the Excel Centre.'
Notably on September 8th two gun boats were successfully prevented from entering the fair for a number of hours.
The DESi arms fair is held every two years and has been plagued by exhibitors who sell illegal weaponry such as torture equipment, cluster munitions destined for some of the most murderous regimes in the world.
Freedom of information requests by activists to the Metropolitan Police Service and the CPS as to what action they took to investigate and prosecute these criminal acts have so far gone unanswered.
With legal weapons such as sniper rifles, small arms, tear gas, artillery shells being sold to some of the most abhorrent human rights abusers in the world in countries such as Egypt, Turkey, Bahrain, Israel, Sri Lanka, USA, Syria and Libya, the calls will only get stronger to shut down the DSEi arms fair.
Notably the support which the fair gives to illegal British wars overseas will no doubt come under increasing scrutiny and it will be interesting what is further revealed about the DSEi arms fair under cross examination in the upcoming Trials which are mostly due to start in February 2014.
Widespread anger with the arms fair continues to grow with a joint letter signed by individuals including Caroline Lucas MP, Elfyn Llwyd MP, Linda Riordan MP, Michael Mansfield QC and Mark Thomas, and over 30 civil society organisations, was published in the Guardian on 1 November 2013. The letter states:
'The activists being charged, and taken to court on the 4th of November for trying to stop this illegitimate trade, should be congratulated not convicted.'
The Anger has not stopped there, with Ex Arch Bishop of Canterbury Dr Rowin Williams showing support for the Arms Fair Defendants,
“I am very grateful for those who have courageously drawn attention to the scandal of this situation, and to the wider question of the way governments support and subsidise the arms trade.”
“Outrage about one kind of horrific and illegal weaponry will not be taken seriously unless it is part of a comprehensive willingness to tackle all forms of collusion with technologically advanced violence against human beings.”
One activist who received a Conditional Discharge after pleading guilty for personal reasons read out a moving statement in court greeted enthusiastically by the Sitting District Judge. It Reads:
‘With all respect to the court, I have to say that today I feel sad.
Because, by the standards of this upside down world, which prioritises the rights of subsidized corporations to profit from death, destruction and terror over the rights to life and quality of life of the civilians who are killed, displaced, and separated from loved ones by war, or of the planet's ecosystems – and all those whose health relies on the health of these ecosystems, ie all of us – to thrive, yes, I suppose I am guilty.
Guilty of slowing the setting up of an arms fair where millionaires, subsidized by public money at a time when the NHS is being cut to the bone and sold off, buy and sell tools of death for profit. Guilty of creating a space for peace and freedom and joy. Guilty of acting in solidarity with those struggling against oppression and facing brutal repression for doing so in Bahrain, Turkey and other countries.
Yes, I’m guilty of believing that surely at this point in human evolution we can find another way to deal with conflict and to live together, and I'm guilty of hoping that at some point soon, we will.
So yes, I'm guilty.’
Clare Cochrane, Thames Magistrates Court, 4 November 2013
Paul Hanes is a member of Counterfire who started Fourman Films in 2003 after his first feature documentary that year. He is an award winning film maker, active trade unionist and a prolific video blogger and citizen journalist. He has over 1,000 YouTube videos which form an historic and in depth record of the movement, often overlooked by the mainstream media.
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