No Faith in War

Every two years, London is host to the world’s largest arms fair, DSEI (Defence & Security Equipment International), held at the ExCeL centre, owned since 2008 by Abu Dhabi National Exhibitions Company, since 2001. ExCeL is a large purpose built exhibition centre on the north bank of the now redundant Royal Victoria Dock, which closed to commercial traffic in 1981, but still has access from the Thames for shipping at North Woolwich. But exhibits other than a few naval ships which moor alongside the centre are brought in by lorry, through two entrance gates at the east and west end of the large site, around three-quarters of a mile apart.

According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, the UK is the world’s sixth largest supplier of arms, after (in order from the largest) USA, Russia, China, France and Germany. And although we have bans on supplying some arms to some countries, many of the exhibitors at DSEI are not from the UK and don’t even pretend the scruples that our government and manufacturers do. Arms deals are made at DSEI for selling banned weapons to dodgy regimes around the world, and visitors allowed in have found banned weapons on display and also under the counter and produced on request.

Britain of course sells arms to corrupt regimes around the world, although there are some countries to which export licences are not granted. But British-made armaments are currently killing people in Yemen and pretty well everywhere else there is a war, often used by both sides.

The protesters attempted to stop lorries taking arms in for the show which was being set up. They managed to close the routes to both gates for some time, disrupting the preparations, though I’m sure all the weapons, legal and illegal, eventually got through, thanks to a huge police exercise. But although the protesters knew that this would be the case, their protests did raise public awareness about what was happening, and of the opposition to the fair across London, including from the Mayor of London and local councils.

I’d missed the first day when the emphasis had been on the Israeli arms industry, which actually markets arms as having been field-tested in Gaza on Palestinians. The second day was dominated by various faith groups, most of whom are pacifists and believe disputes should be settled by diplomacy and discussion rather than military might and killing people. Many were Quakers, but there were also Catholic, Anglicans and other Christians as well as a small group of Buddhists.

As well as holding religious services on the road leading to the gates, standing on the road holding banners or lying down on them, and walking slowly in front of lorries there was a rather more spectacular protest when 4 men abseiled down from a bridge across the road and held banners in pairs with messages ‘Theresa May who would Jesus sanciton, starve and then blow to pieces #StopDSEI’ and ‘DSEI is state terrorism #StopDSEI’.

Police seemed to handle most of the arrests and those arrested with more than usual care, though some not arrested were pushed pretty roughly. Over the whole week of protest more than a hundred people were arrested and some of those have beeing coming to court in recent weeks. Although there have been a few convictions, many have been acquitted, as the police were judged not to have properly weighed the right to protest against the need to keep a road open, while other cases failed as where they were charged with obstruction of the public highway was in fact private land.

As often happens with arrests at protests, many of the cases have been dropped before coming to court, sometimes only hours before the time set for trial, in what appears to be a deliberate police tactic of using the threat of trial as a punishment where there is insufficient evidence for a conviction. It seems likely that quite a few will get some compensation for wrongful arrest, and it will be interesting to see if this has any effect on policing the protests that will doubtless occur assuming the arms fair goes ahead in 2019.

More pictures: No Faith in War DSEI Arms Fair protest


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