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British court acquits campaigners against arms trade

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

A British court today threw out charges against campaigners protesting against a London arms fair.

In the fourth in a series of trials at Stratford Magistrates Court involving demonstrations against Defence & Security Equipment International (DSEI) arms fair in London last year, the judge threw out the charges, describing the protestors’ actions as “reasonable”.

In a decision that is seen as a boost to the right to peaceful protest against the arms fair, District Judge Hamilton acquitted all four defendants of charges of obstructing the highway.

The decision marks a significant u-turn from last month’s decision by judges at the Stratford Magistrates Court who sentenced five protesters from the same group for demonstrating against the 2017 arms fair.

Following their victory, Hodge Jones & Allen solicitors said in their press release that all of the defendants had accepted that they had “locked on” in the middle of the road that leads to the arms fair. Describing the moment prior to their arrest, the solicitors said that the protest was “symbolic” and the group, who were all “committed Christians wanted to turn a road that was carrying weapons of destruction into a safe space for prayer for a short time. However, all were arrested after a matter of minutes by the police”.

Read: Do British courts really need to protect the world’s most corrupt industry?

Hodge Jones & Allen solicitors confirmed that more than 100 people were arrested in September 2017 outside the Excel Centre in east London during the DSEI arms fair which takes place every two years. It’s thought to be the largest event in the world attracting international arms dealers from countries including Bahrain, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and the UAE.

Charges against most of the protestors were dropped but the remaining 46 activists have faced trial throughout January and February.

In further defence of their clients, the solicitors mentioned that opponents to the arms fair have accused the exhibitors of promoting unlawful weapons, specifically in 2007 and 2011. These breaches were discovered by external bodies such as Amnesty International and other NGOs. Since 2015, DSEI has banned such organisations from the fair.

Denouncing the arms fair, the solicitors said: “[The] world’s most repressive regimes buy weapons at DSEI. Saudi Arabia, for example, is accused of committing breaches of international humanitarian law and crimes against humanity in Yemen, with the aid of weapons purchased from UK companies.  Arms sales to Saudi Arabia have increased by nearly 500 per cent since the start of the war in Yemen, with more than £4.6bn worth of arms sold within the first two years of bombings.”

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