I need to start with an apology to Angela Ditchfield for saying that she would be standing for Labour. She has stood for the Greens and will be standing for the Greens again.
I’m afraid that today is longer and heavier than previous reports because of the subject matter.
The day started with the cross examination of Lisa Butler which added little to what had been covered yesterday. She arrived with around 40-50 cyclists from Critical Mass, bringing her banner of solidarity with the Kurdish people to the East Gate (I’m actually sitting just metres from the site right now). Lisa made it clear that the police prevented her from closing the gate across the carriageway she was at by driving a van into the gap, and that she had not arrived with the intention of locking herself to the gate. She only did so because one of the security guards was assaulting the first woman who was going to lock herself on, and wanted to prevent her getting hurt. It was not premeditated. Her action did not increase the blockage of the road. Indeed, the police were not competently carrying out their duty, but making the assault on the other woman worse. The police were really intimidating, so that she looked down, but overheard them making disgusting sexist comments about a naked woman “with her tits hanging out” and really wanted to get away from them.
Locking herself to the gates did much more to raise awareness of the plight of the Kurds and got more publicity than all the banner waving had ever done. Her intention in locking herself to the gates had been to stop illegal sales of arms to Turkey, though with hindsight she could not prevent the crimes. Lisa stated that companies that supply countries carrying out war crimes are guilty of complicity in those war crimes under the International War Crimes Act.
Lisa also agreed that it happened on a private road; not a public highway (I still can’t work out why the prosecution raised that as I would have thought it would mean that she couldn’t be obstructing a public highway, and the prosecution had seemed to object to the point being raised yesterday). She also pointed out that other than the two police vans; no other vehicles were present to be obstructed.
Next we were privileged to have Olly Sprague, programme director arms control at Amnesty, as an expert witness.
His role includes representing views to parliament and ministers, speaking to media etc about arms and arms control.
He is aware that there have been breaches of law at every DSEI since 2005 (2005-13). The law relating to arms control is fully extraterritorial in scope, something that applies only for the most serious forms of crime such as terrorism.
The ban includes the promotion, marketing and sale of instruments of torture such as electric batons and leg irons as well as illegal weapons such as cluster bombs and land mines. At least from 2008 it has been illegal to advertise or market cluster bombs.
We then looked at who attends the arms fair. The British Government invites some, and attendees are government delegations, people from the arms industry, journalists in defence publications and some academics. A freedom of information application (FOIA) of which countries were invited by the government included Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. People attend the fairs as an important part in subsequent deals, and the legislation shows that the government thinks that fairs are key in making sales.
This year Ollie was prevented from attending. Having registered in advance he was told that there was a problem and that he should turn up on day, when he was the only person in a queue of about 100 people who taken to a side room and prevented from entering the exhibition
However, this is some of the illegal activity that Ollie reported on:
- 2005 DSEI: Tar Ideal (Israel) was advertising sale stun guns, stun batons and leg-irons on its stand. All these items specifically prohibited under 2004 legislation changes. Another company, Imperial Armour (South Africa) offered to discuss at this show to an undercover journalist, their product range of electro shock weapons. Such a discussion is also in my view, would also constitute a breach of UK legislation.
- 2007 DSEI: BCB International Ltd (Wales) advertising a Taser electric dart device. Chinese firm Famous Glory Holdings were advertising leg-cuffs and a range of electroshock stun guns and stun batons. Indian company DRDO was advertising an artillery rocket system that fired a variety of munitions including anti-personnel landmines.
- 2009 DSEI: Pakistan Ordnance Factory (POF) in its product catalogue was displaying a 155 mm cluster bomb artillery shell. The specific munitions were called the 155mm Base Bleed DP-ICM (Dual Purpose Improved Conventional Munitions) which was made illegal under 2008 revisions to UK export control law, and were present despite the organisers have been specifically warned about them in advance.
- 2011 DSEi: Beechwood Equipment (UK) was advertising illegal restraint devices including leg irons, belly, body and gang chains made by US company CTS. It was a full colour brochure available to pick up on the counter and was extremely prominent on the display. Pakistan Ordnance Factory: – The same 155mm cluster bomb artillery shell was even more prominently on display in an actual product line brochure rather than a product catalogue. Defence Export Promotion Organisation (DEPO) of Pakistan was also displaying the Pakistan Ordnance Factory 155 mm cluster munitions. Nammo Talley, a fully owned subsidiary of the Nammo Group, whose promotional material was on the Nammo Stand, also included references to cluster munitions in their literature.
- DSEi 2013: A further two companies were identified by civil society researchers. MyWay International Trading company was promoting the sale of leg irons and electric stun batons and MagForce International were promoting the sale of electric stun guns and leg Irons. I am in no doubt that these are prohibited items of torture and to display them at DSEI 2013 was a clear breach of the Export Control Order 2008 as they relate to the promotion of banned goods
None of these breaches were discovered by the organisers, the police, HMRC or government weapons inspectors, but by members of civil society. Indeed, officials on public record as saying they have not done their job properly in stopping illegal activity. None of them have ever been prosecuted; Vince Cable basically said that it would not be in the public interest.
Ollie also discussed the Saudi Arabia / Yemen conflict, where numerous extremely credible sources, including UN monitors, Red Cross, Amnesty and Human Rights Watch found grave breaches of international Human Rights Law, and Law of War. Over 3000 people have been killed and over 2 million people displaced. It is probably one of the worst conflicts of its kind. This was ongoing at time of DSEI and was using the type of equipment on sale at DSEI. This afternoon Mr Sands QC will be presenting to Parliament his legal opinion that the breaches are so grave that arms sales to Saudi Arabia should be stopped.
Saudi Arabia is the largest recipient of UK arms by value. Indeed, in the quarter with DSEI in (July to September 2015) the government licensed £1.2 billion of bombs of the type being used in Yemen by Saudi Arabia. This is more than all exports of bombs to all countries over previous 4 years. There is clear evidence of the use of British made bombs. After one air raid carried out by the UAE on a ceramics factory a bomb fragment was found saying “made in the UK”.
Ollie state that he had never seen anyone from National Crime Agency, HMRC etc at DSEI. Even the arms dealers’ compliance people are concerned that things like torture equipment are being sold, and are concerned that government is not doing its job.
On paper we have some of the best laws to prevent war crimes and illegal weapons being sold, but there is a huge gap between law and what happened. The government has shown that is not capable of enforcing their own law. Year on year they have said they want to improve, but they never have.
We then returned to the defendants on the witness stand, and Mr Isa al-Aali who was arrested at the same time as me. Asi was born and grew up in Bahrain before 2011 he was not fully politically engaged. From 2011 he took part in demos asking for equality and democracy. The police were heavy handed and
attacked demonstrators very violently using arms with live ammunition and tear gas, and explosives normally used against animals. Isa personally saw people killed and injured and hundreds arrested. The first time the forces were just Bahrainis but the second time included Saudi Arabian forces in the crushing of the uprising.
Isa was arrested three times in 2013. The first time he was stopped by 12 police cars late at night when he was by himself. He tried to run away or he would have been run over. One officer jumped on his back causing him to fall and the police then wanted to take him to a police station. He refused to go as he had not committed a crime, and feared being tortured or killed. He had a gun put against head, and was told that if he didn’t do what they wanted then they would kill him. He is convinced that the gun came from UK. He was taken to the police station, arrested and stripped and beaten until he became unconscious. They tied his hands behind his back with plastic ties and beat him up to admit things he didn’t know about, and beat him until he couldn’t stand up or even move so that they had to pick him up and put him in the car. They also threatened to cut off his penis. He was arrested on two other occasions in 2013.
He was granted asylum in the UK in 2015; based on experiences that he has told today and shown in court.
He is particularly opposed to the sale of arms at the fair because Bahrain is one of the major customers and gets arms through the fair of the type used against him.
He went planning to demonstrate, and if believed that if he managed to stop anything carrying arms that would be something. “It is a duty to stop arms from getting to the fair, it is a moral duty and responsibility.” He saw the tank and ran towards it. The lorry carrying the tank was forced to slow when a car went by. The lorry still moving when sat down in front it, but moving slowly. He stopped as it was most likely the tank would be sold from the fair and used to kill innocent people.
Susannah Mengesha is representing herself, and therefore effectively made a statement from the dock. She stated that she has no criminal convictions and her work involves supporting vulnerable adults especially isolated elderly people. She has also supported long-term homeless people, women escaping violence and victims of war. She is also the mother of a 9 year-old girl. Her husband is a conscientious objector from Eritrea who was tortured for his conscientious objection. She therefore felt compelled to act against torture; that weapons would be sold at DSEI for torture which is illegal and that weapons would be sold that would be used to commit war crimes in Yemen. Nearly all the coalition partners in Yemen would be shopping in DSEI. UAE have been doing air strikes and sent in ground troops. The attacks were particularly bad in the week of protest.
The day before her action Oxfam issued a press release saying we need to urgently stop selling arms to Saudi because of their use in Yemen.
Prior to her action at the arms fair she had taken other action including signing petitions; contacted Caroline Lucas to raise questions about DSEI in parliament; going on a speaking tour with CAAT to Norwich and London. She even launched a private prosecution against legal sellers from 2013 but this was blocked by the Crown Prosecution Service who would not respond to letters until the deadline for prosecuting had passed. She tried to have a judicial review but was told that she did not have standing.
She then went on to say that she didn’t know until the morning of the protest what she was going to do, but met some friends and obtained some bicycle D-locks and in the absence of any other way to prevent illegal sales agreed to be locked to the gate. When she arrived the further gate was already closed and locked down by G4S. She was locked onto the gate heard a lot of shouting and heard someone shouting you are strangling me and there seemed to be a fight. She saw two security personnel and others all shouting so retreated into self and stayed quiet. Concentrating on survival; worried about security knocking over the fence and effectively strangling her.
She stated that unfortunately her actions were not effective; because there was nothing to stop. She had hoped the protest would succeed, being aware of other places where arms fairs have been shut down by mass protests, including in Australia. She said “I wish I had been effective and that we had shut down the arms fair; I stand by my action”
Next up was Mr Rankin who works for a peace organisation, Vredesactie, in Belgium. It has a major campaign against nuclear weapons, jets and is working against the arms trade. He has also worked for UN in Malawi, assisting refugees from war in Burundi and Congo.
The protest was a way of expressing my discontent against the arms trade and the fair, where many of the arms being sold are in breach of existing law. Weapons cannot be sold for violation of humanitarian law. He arrived at about 10:00. At the dual carriageway (two lanes in each direction). There was already a Crowd of 200 people who were blocking the road, as were the police who had surrounded the crowd and lorry.
With two friends they lay down and locked themselves together; occupying a small space so that if someone wanted to they could get round their blockage, but then they would have run into the police. After several hours the police moved most of the crowd and then there were four left – those locked on and one other.
He said “If I am able to stop war crimes by lying in the middle of the road that is important.” And “Protest and direct action is part of a vibrant democracy”.
Javier Garate was born in the US while his father was in exile from Pinochet’s Chile. They moved back to chile in 1981, so that he lived under dictatorship for ten years, and so remembers curfews, soldiers in the street, and in school the father of classmate killed when he was six. At 25 he moved to UK working to promote non-violent direct action. He lived in London 2005-15 attended first arms fair as part of critical mass. See the same things every year; but it was not working so he decided to use body to prevent fair from happening. Until this year, never doing civil disobedience; just protesting. Because cannot count on the police and authorities stopping the illegal activity had to stop the whole arms fair,
People everywhere; on the road, on the surrounding green space. People on the road blocking at least two lanes; as were police. Javier blocked less than one lane, trying to stop any lorry from entering the arms fair. All the lorries before he lay in the road had gone into the Excel Centre, so he could assume the one he stopped would go there too.
He said “My action was justified and reasonable in stopping a greater crime.”
Luis Javier Tinoco Torrejon is Peruvian and Belgian working in development education and for five years in peace movements Agite pour la Paix an anti-militaristic organisation. He has volunteered for year and now trains people in non-violent-direct-action and civil disobedience.
He was invited over to the UK by CAAT to share experiences, and the meeting was during the DSEI campaign so went to see what was happening. It was his first time going to an arms fair. He has been doing non-violent-direct-action for some years as well as contacting politicians; but there hasn’t been any change. Civil disobedience is the only way of putting justice back where it needs to be.
He also stated that none of the other protestors who were removed from the road were arrested.
The day ended with some legal arguments. The judge asked that after the final two expert witnesses in the morning speeches focus on the defence of preventing crime as if he acquits us on that basis there is no need to look at the other defences.
He also said that a lot of what Hoffman says in Jones is before current law, so is now redundant. He also asked what is the implication of the state not enforcing the law but treating it is a joke.And he commented that innocent people inconvenienced by crime prevention is not itself enough to remove defence.
Finally, CAAT have a good report