Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.
Hundreds of protesters flocked to the Excel Centre in London to try to block the DSEI arms fair – one of the largest weapons fairs in the world – last year. Earlier this month, eight of us were put on trial for attempting to obstruct the roads leading to the fair. On 15 April, the judge found all of us not guilty, as we were trying to prevent crimes from happening at the arms fair.
Of course, we were ecstatic with the result, but we feel that we should never have been on trial in the first place. At the beginning of the case, it was eight activists who were on trial, but by the end of the week, we had succeeded in bringing the corrupt activities of the arms trade to public attention. It felt as though we had successfully put Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, DSEI and the UK government on trial.
We came from all over the world to oppose DSEI. One defendant, Javier, grew up in Chile under the military junta led by General Pinochet. ‘I lived under a dictatorship for nearly ten years. I remember curfews and a general sense of fear of the police and the military due to the regime’s horrific repression,’ Javier told the court. ‘The father of my school classmate was murdered by the secret police when I was six years old.’ At the age of eighteen, Javier was part of the first group of people who publicly declared themselves as conscientious objectors to military service.
Another defendant, Isa, is from Bahrain and was forced to flee the country after being imprisoned and tortured for his participation in the 2011 revolution. During the uprising, thousands of Bahrainis protested and were crushed with force, with violent intervention from Saudi Arabia. Isa told the court that he was arrested three times in 2013, and that police held a gun to his head. He was taken to the police station and stripped and beaten until he became unconscious. The police tied his hands behind his back and beat him to try to force him to give false confessions, and they threatened to cut off his penis. Bahrain has purchased £45 million of UK weapons since the 2011 uprising, indicating that UK arms are being used against the Bahraini people.
One defendant highlighted the ongoing mass killings of Kurdish people by Turkey. Having visited Kurdistan recently, she explained to the judge about the violent curfews that have been imposed on Kurdish cities. Tanks and rockets have been firing shells and mortars into the cities, while snipers have been gunning people down on the street, including children. Instead of banning Turkey from the arms fair, the UK government welcomed the war criminals with open arms.
Other defendants stated that they were particularly concerned with the sales of arms to countries such as Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Israel, and explained that they were compelled to act because illegal weapons, such as torture equipment, have been found at previous DSEI events.
While giving evidence, defendant Tom Franklin stated that: ‘In every single previous arms fair, illegal activity has been found to be happening. We have evidence of that.’
Among our expert witnesses was Oliver Sprague from Amnesty International, who talked about the illegal weapons that have been sold at every DSEI arms fair. He also highlighted the ‘legal’ weapons that are used illegally. In his report, Oliver also gave evidence of arms being used in the Yemen war:
‘[The Yemen] conflict has cost at least 3,000 civilian lives, 2.5 million people displaced and 82% of the population – some 21.2 million people – currently require some form on humanitarian assistance. Importantly, official delegations from countries directly involved in military action in Yemen were in receipt of official UK government invitations to the event, including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Kuwait, Bahrain, Morocco and Jordan.’
Sprague told the court that Saudi Arabia is the largest recipient of UK arms. From July to September 2015, the UK government granted export licenses for £1.2 billion for bombs of the type being used in Yemen by Saudi Arabia.
Kat Hobbs of CAAT (Campaign Against the Arms Trade) gave the court an overview of Clarion Events, which organises DSEI. Hobbs said: ’61 countries were formally invited to DSEI 2015 by the government, and many more were invited by Clarion, who advertised the fair as the “place to do business”. Of those 61 countries, 14 are classified as being authoritarian and six are at war, including Saudi Arabia and Turkey.’
Since winning our case, there has been much media coverage questioning of the legality of the arms fair. However, we want to stress that we are opposed to all weapons that are being produced for corporate profit, and we are against all wars where these weapons are used for imperialist gains and domination.
The Parliamentary Committee on Arms Export Controls has responded to the trial by promising to look at the legality of DSEI and how it fits in with the Arms Trade Treaty. This usually results in a lot of rhetoric and cosmetic changes, but the arms sales to human rights abusers will continue – not least because ‘legal’ arms can be used for war crimes, but also because regardless of who they are sold to, there is every chance that they will fall into different hands down the line. We have seen a decade of faux hand-wringing and promises to do better every time that wrongdoing at DSEI has been highlighted, but nothing changes.
The problem is the whole arms trade, which makes its billions in profit from murder. As Andrew Feinstein writes in his book The Shadow World: ‘The arms trade operates on collusion between world leaders, intelligence operatives, corporations at the cutting edge of technological development, financiers and bankers, transporters, shady middlemen, money launderers and common criminals.’
We are certain that whatever steps officials may say that they are taking to regulate the arms fair, there can never be an arms trade that is legitimate. So until DSEI is shut down, we will be back in force to try to prevent it from taking place. We came from the UK, Bahrain, Belgium, Chile and Peru to oppose DSEI. The arms trade takes place on a global scale, and so our resistance has no borders.
Take action: Visit the CAAT website to pledge to shut down the arms fair when it next takes place in 2017. Thanks to all the defendants for contributing to this article.
What if it's not us who are sick, asks Rod Tweedy, but a system at odds with who we are as social beings?
Survivors of the fire are still relying on thousands of community volunteers, writes Dan Renwick - but the failed council is plotting a comeback
The people could reach a democratic and non-violent solution if they were freed from US meddling, argues Boaventura de Sousa Santos
A decade after the start of the crash, economic power is in our hands – we must take it, writes Ann Pettifor
Nick Dowson looks at the new wave of co-ops and community groups where people are building their own truly affordable homes
Hsiao-Hung Pai meets people affected by the fire, and finds sadness and suffering mixed with a continuing wariness of the official investigations
Chris Williamson MP, winner of the election's tightest marginal, Derby North, and recently reappointed shadow minister for fire services, talks to Ashish Ghadiali about Jeremy Corbyn, the housing crisis and winning from the left
The Corbyn-supporting group is preparing for another election at any moment, writes Adam Peggs – and now has the potential to create powerful training initiatives, union links and party reform efforts
’We believe in you. We are with you. We will never forget.’ Grenfell solidarity sweeps East London in mass banner drops from housing estates
Fearless Cities: the new urban movements
A wave of new municipalist movements has been experimenting with how to take – and transform – power in cities large and small. Bertie Russell and Oscar Reyes report on the growing success of radical urban politics around the world
A musical fightback against school arts cuts
Elliot Clay on why his new musical turns the spotlight on the damage austerity has done to arts education, through the story of one school band's battle
Neoliberalism: the break-up tour
Sarah Woods and Andrew Simms ask why, given the trail of destruction it has left, we are still dancing to the neoliberal tune
Cat Smith MP: ‘Jeremy Corbyn has authenticity. You can’t fake that’
Cat Smith, shadow minister for voter engagement and youth affairs and one of the original parliamentary backers of Corbyn’s leadership, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali
To stop the BBC interviewing climate deniers, we need to make climate change less boring
To stop cranks like Lord Lawson getting airtime, we need to provoke more interesting debates around climate change than whether it's real or not, writes Leo Barasi
Tory Glastonbury? Money can’t buy you cultural relevance
Adam Peggs on why the left has more fun
Essay: After neoliberalism, what next?
There are economically-viable, socially-desirable alternatives to the failed neoliberal economic model, writes Jayati Ghosh
With the new nuclear ban treaty, it’s time to scrap Trident – and spend the money on our NHS
As a doctor, I want to see money spent on healthcare not warfare, writes David McCoy - Britain should join the growing international movement for disarmament
Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India
Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India, by Shashi Tharoor, reviewed by Ian Sinclair
A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour
A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour: Kenya, Britain and the Julie Ward Murder, by Grace A Musila, reviewed by Allen Oarbrook
‘We remembered that convictions can inspire and motivate people’: interview with Lisa Nandy MP
The general election changed the rules, but there are still tricky issues for Labour to face, Lisa Nandy tells Ashish Ghadiali
Everything you know about Ebola is wrong
Vicky Crowcroft reviews Ebola: How a People’s Science Helped End an Epidemic, by Paul Richards
Job vacancy: Red Pepper is looking for an online editor
Closing date for applications: 1 September.
Theresa May’s new porn law is ridiculous – but dangerous
The law is almost impossible to enforce, argues Lily Sheehan, but it could still set a bad precedent
Interview: Queer British Art
James O'Nions talks to author Alex Pilcher about the Tate’s Queer British Art exhibition and her book A Queer Little History of Art
Cable the enabler: new Lib Dem leader shows a party in crisis
Vince Cable's stale politics and collusion with the Conservatives belong in the dustbin of history, writes Adam Peggs
Anti-Corbyn groupthink and the media: how pundits called the election so wrong
Reporting based on the current consensus will always vastly underestimate the possibility of change, argues James Fox
Michael Cashman: Commander of the Blairite Empire
Lord Cashman, a candidate in Labour’s internal elections, claims to stand for Labour’s grassroots members. He is a phony, writes Cathy Cole
Contribute to Conter – the new cross-party platform linking Scottish socialists
Jonathan Rimmer, editor of Conter, says it’s time for a new non-sectarian space for Scottish anti-capitalists and invites you to take part
Editorial: Empire will eat itself
Ashish Ghadiali introduces the June/July issue of Red Pepper
Eddie Chambers: Black artists and the DIY aesthetic
Eddie Chambers, artist and art historian, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali about the cultural strategies that he, as founder of the Black Art Group, helped to define in the 1980s
Despite Erdogan, Turkey is still alive
With this year's referendum consolidating President Erdogan’s autocracy in Turkey, Nazim A argues that the way forward for democrats lies in a more radical approach
Red Pepper Race Section: open editorial meeting – 11 August in Leeds
The next open editorial meeting of the Red Pepper Race Section will take place between 3.30-5.30pm, Friday 11th August in Leeds.
Mogg-mentum? Thatcherite die-hard Jacob Rees-Mogg is no man of the people
Adam Peggs says Rees-Mogg is no joke – he is a living embodiment of Britain's repulsive ruling elite
Power to the renters: Turning the tide on our broken housing system
Heather Kennedy, from the Renters Power Project, argues it’s time to reject Thatcher’s dream of a 'property-owning democracy' and build renters' power instead
Your vote can help Corbyn supporters win these vital Labour Party positions
Left candidate Seema Chandwani speaks to Red Pepper ahead of ballot papers going out to all members for a crucial Labour committee
Join the Rolling Resistance to the frackers
Al Wilson invites you to take part in a month of anti-fracking action in Lancashire with Reclaim the Power
The Grenfell public inquiry must listen to the residents who have been ignored for so long
Councils handed housing over to obscure, unaccountable organisations, writes Anna Minton – now we must hear the voices they silenced
India: Modi’s ‘development model’ is built on violence and theft from the poorest
Development in India is at the expense of minorities and the poor, writes Gargi Battacharya
North Korea is just the start of potentially deadly tensions between the US and China
US-China relations have taken on a disturbing new dimension under Donald Trump, writes Dorothy Guerrero