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British court sentences five protesters for demonstrating against arms trade

Protesters gather near the ExCel Centre to demonstrate against the arms fair in London, UK on 8 September 2017 [WarMattersFilm/Twitter]

A British court has sentenced five protesters arrested in the summer of 2017 for demonstrating against a world leading arms expo and rejected the claim that they were exercising their right to freedom of speech and assembly.

The defendants are amongst dozens of other protesters, many of who are still awaiting their hearings at Stratford Magistrates Court. Over 100 people are said to have been arrested for protesting against the Defence & Security Equipment International (DESI) arms fair which takes place every two years in the London Excel Centre. Some have had charges dropped, but 43 activists will stand trial.

Judges passed their verdict on the first group of protesters last week and found five out of the six defendants guilty of “Obstruction of a Highway”.

Raj Chada, a criminal defence lawyer at London law firm Hodge Jones & Allen who defended the protestors in court said:

“These protesters are seeking to highlight that the DSEI arms fair continues to be held in London, with the government’s complicity. They support the Mayor for London’s comments that London should not be the market place for regimes that contribute to human rights abuses.”

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Freya Colvin, another lawyer at the firm, said:

The demonstrators were exercising their right to freedom of speech and assembly by means of a ‘sustained, ethical, pacified protest’ to highlight the far-reaching and devastating impact of the arms trade.

Judges at the Stratford Magistrates dismissed the lawyer’s defence and concluded that the actions of the campaigners were “unreasonable”. In their comments to MEMO, solicitors from Hodge Jones & Allen disagreed with the courts. They insisted that the actions of the campaigners were “reasonable” pointing to the importance of democratic rights and the need to raise awareness of the issues surround DSEI and the arms trade.

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British politicians have also drawn attention to the human rights violation of countries like Saudi Arabia who use the arms expo to eye the latest weapons to use in their Yemen campaign. In 2016 the Joint Select Committee on Arms Export Control recommended all sales of UK weapons to Saudi Arabia be be suspended until an independent inquiry into alleged breaches of international law in Yemen has been completed.

Speaking to MEMO about the trial, Andrew Smith of Campaign Against Arms Trade said: “The policing at DSEI was totally inappropriate and very heavy-handed, with over 100 arrests for taking part in peaceful protests and direct action. The protesters rightly opposed the presence of human rights abusers and arms dealers.”

Smith cited a poll carried out prior to DSEI which found that 76 per cent of UK adults oppose arms exports to repressive regimes and 64 per cent oppose government support for arms fairs that include representatives from governments with poor human rights records.

The protesters received a six month conditional discharge and are obliged to pay £180 towards prosecution costs save for one person who got a £100 fine instead of a conditional discharge.

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