On Thursday, eight campaigners, including members of Christian peace groups, will stand trial at Stratford Magistrates Court for blocking the road and stopping tanks and weaponry from entering Defence & Security Equipment International (DSEI), one of the world's biggest arms fairs, when it was in London last September.
The trial is expected to last four days. Four of the defendants, Nicholas Cooper (36), Sam Donaldson (29), Luis Durton (29) and Tom Franklin (59) suspended themselves from the access bridge, while Chris Cole, Henrietta Cullinan, Jo Frew and Nora Ziegler (28) locked on.
The action was part of an interfaith day of witness and action against the arms trade. While the defendants blocked the road, faith groups including the Quakers, Pax Christi, Fellowship of Reconciliation, Wake Up, and Anglican Pacifist Fellowship said prayers and bore witness.
DSEI takes place every two years in London, it brings some of the world's most oppressive regimes together with many of the biggest arms companies. It is organised by Clarion Events and the UK Government. Last year buyers included delegations from countries involved in conflict and human rights abusing regimes, including Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Pakistan and Azerbaijan. They were joined by over 1500 arms companies, selling weapons that ranged from rifles to tanks, fighter jets, battleships, missiles, surveillance and riot control equipment.
The defendants are supported by expert witnesses, who will give oral evidence for the defence concerning the nature of the DSEI arms fair:
· Andrew Feinstein, former Member of Parliament in South Africa. Feinstein resigned from in 2001 in protest at the government's refusal to investigate a £5bn arms deal that has been identified as the biggest corruption scandal in South African history. He is the Executive Director of Corruption Watch UK, which researches the global arms trade and details and exposes weapons violations, bribery, corruption and other malfeasance.
· Kat Hobbs, outreach coordinator for the Campaign Against the Arms Trade, having worked there since 2011 and is an expert on the arms trade, and the suffering and exploitation that it causes.
The defendants themselves will give personal testimony of their reasons for opposing DSEI.
Defendant Tom Franklin, 59, of Clifton Without, York said: "The DSEI arms fair is a key element in the promotion of war and crimes against humanity. Companies are selling weapons to regimes that are using them to kill civilians and torture and oppress. The government is promoting sales of weapons to some of the worst abusers of human rights such as Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Israel."
The defendants are using the defences of reasonableness and necessity, arguing that their actions were justified as they intended to prevent greater crimes including:
· The sale of weapons to internally repressive regimes, including Bahrain and Saudi Arabia;
· The sale of weapons to countries imminently at war and overtly complicitin ongoing war crimes in Yemen, Kurdistan and Palestine;
· The sale of weapons to regimes that have been widely accused of arming ISIS;
· The promotion for sale of weapons that are designed specifically fortorture or banned under international law for their capabilities concerning the mass indiscriminate killing of civilians.
In a joint public statement, the Defendants Campaign said: "Tools such as those promoted for sale at DSEI will be used to reinforce apartheid, to surveil and brutalise communities from Brixton to Bahrain, and to perpetuate the border regime that kills thousands every year - as European states wage a war against the refugees they helped create. Weapons promoted at DSEI are used to incinerate whole families at the touch of a button in places from Palestine to Pakistan. Such weapons will continue to devastate landscapes and do permanent environmental damage across the globe. And that these weapons have been used in systematic forced evictions and ethnic cleansing; such as against the people of Kurdistan. And we know that weapons of the type promoted at DSEI will be used to torture and repress people based on their political views, faith, gender, or sexuality in places like Saudi Arabia. Sometimes the tools of oppression are literal - and they are for sale at DSEI."
The four day trial will begin 1 February at Stratford Magistrates Court in London. The defendants will be represented in court by Hodge Jones & Allen of London and Bindmans Solicitors of London.
For more information see:
· Stop the Arms Fair: www.stopthearmsfair.org.uk/about/dsei/
· Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT): www.caat.org.uk