Andrew Smith of the Campaign Against Arms Trade talks about the verdicts, the reasons for protesting arms fairs, and the impact of activism
GREGORY WILPERT: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Gregory Wilpert coming to you from Quito, Ecuador. The trial of activists who protested the largest British arms fair has concluded. About 100 activists were arrested in September last year as they protested the largest arms fair in Britain, the DSEI, the Defense and Security Equipment International. It is among the largest arms fairs and arms dealers from all over the world come and buy and sell weaponry, which is then used in various conflict zones around the globe. Here are some clips from the protest.
Speaker 2: We want to use dabke today as a way of saying no to selling arms to Israel and to stop the conflict.
Speaker 3: This arms fair is about the strongest in society becoming stronger at the expense of the weakest, and so people of faith, as well as many other people, we need to come and protest, and in some cases physically stop the lorries and other things from getting into the bags so we can slow down this horrendous injustice.
GREGORY WILPERT: Out of the 100 arrested activists, charges were pressed against 43. Their trial has just concluded. Joining me in London to talk about the trial is Andrew Smith. Andrew is a spokesperson for the Campaign Against Arms Trade, or CAAT, and has written for a range of political magazines and national newspapers. Thanks for joining us today Andrew.
ANDREW SMITH: Thank you.
GREGORY WILPERT: Tell us, what was the verdict and what will happen to the 43 activists who faced charges for their protest?
ANDREW SMITH: Well, it was a very disappointing verdict. There were 10 activists who were in front of judges today and were found guilty for obstruction of the highway. In terms of what’s gonna happen next, they’ve been given fines. They’ve been noncustodial sentences, and they’ll be looking at what we’re going to do next in terms of activism, cause this isn’t the end of the campaign to shut down arms fairs like DSEI. We saw, over the course of week of action last year against the arms fair, we saw thousands of people taking action, and the reason for that is because poll after poll are showing that the overwhelming majority of people in the UK are opposed to arms exports to human rights abuses. They’re opposed to arms bearers, which bring human rights abusing regimes to the UK. We’ve all got a part to play in shutting those down and that’s why those who were in court, were prepared to put their bodies on the line to stop something, which they believed was wrong.
GREGORY WILPERT: What was the line of defense of the activists? Did they share a lawyer and how did they justify disrupting the flow of weapons to the fair?
ANDREW SMITH: The activists were quite rightly arguing that the arms being sold at DSEI could be used to fuel atrocities for years to come. For example, we know right now that UK arms are playing a devastating role in the ongoing destruction of Yemen as we speak. Saudi military personnel are flying UK-made fighter jets and dropping UK-made bombs in a war, which has killed thousands of people. We don’t know how the weapons being promoted at DSEI will be used in the future. We don’t know who they’ll be used against. We don’t know what atrocity they will be involved in. We believe that the best way to stop future atrocities, is to stop selling arms in the first place, in particular, to stop arming and supporting some of the most brutal and repressive regimes in the world.
GREGORY WILPERT: Tell us a little bit about the protest against the DSEI and what were the activists specifically doing to protest the arms fair?
ANDREW SMITH: A lot of the activists who have been in court, specifically were blocking the roads. There were many who locked on to vehicles to stop from getting in, but over the course of the protest against DSEI, thousands of people took part. There was all sorts of different protests, whether it was people dancing, there was even people having raids in the middle of even football matches. Everyone was doing anything they could to block roads to stop the vehicles, but it wasn’t just that alone. There’s also a lot of people writing to the MPs, writing to the Council, writing to the ExCel Center, which was hosting the event telling them to stop their support [inaudible 00:04:22]. We find poll and poll showing that the overwhelming majority of the public agreed with us. MPs from across the political spectrum agreed with us. Even the [inaudible 00:4:31] of London agreed with us, but unfortunately, that wasn’t enough. We need to carry on with the protest, carry on making our voices heard and make sure that DSEI doesn’t happen in London ever again.
GREGORY WILPERT: Why did the police arrest so many activists? Was there an attempt to intimidate them and why would the police take the side of the arms dealers?
ANDREW SMITH: I believe it was a clear case of trying to intimidate, ’cause the numbers of people arrested this year were far, far higher than in the past. It was totally disproportionate and totally inappropriate policing, as well. A lot of it was very heavy handed. There were some activists being actually very seriously injured as well. I think it was an attempt to intimidate. I think it was an attempt to try and stop people from taking further action, but what it underlines for us, and what I think it really underlines is to say we’re having an impact. We know that we hugely delayed the setup of the event, but next summer we need to make sure that we stop the event. The overwhelming majority of people in the UK do not support arms exports to human rights abusers. They do not support events like DSEI. It’s time to shut them down for good.
GREGORY WILPERT: Actually, that was going to be my next question. What do you expect to happen at the next DSEI Arms Fair next year. I mean this coming year or this year, sorry, September I presume. Will the experience of the protest from last year discourage or encourage people to protest?
ANDREW SMITH: We believe they’re gonna encourage people because there were a lot of people who were protesting for the first time. A lot of people felt very empowered by their actions that were taking place and have been going back to their networks and trying to get more people involved, but there’s more to the arms trade than DSEI. There’s arms fairs happening throughout the year and we need to think about how we can try and counteract those, as well. I think there’s definitely going to be a lot of different tactics used by campaigners, but I think the key thing, the inspiring thing is how many people were there for the first time and how many people were learning about the scale of the arms industry and the UK’s complicity in human rights abuses in support for dictatorships around the world. We believe the more people who know about the atrocities taking place, the more people will campaign against them.
GREGORY WILPERT: We’ll just leave it there for now and we’ll come back to you for the next round. I was speaking to Andrew Smith, spokesperson for the Campaign Against Arms Trade. Thanks again for having joined us today, Andrew.
ANDREW SMITH: Many thanks. Thank you.
GREGORY WILPERT: Thank you for watching The Real News Network.