Peace activist Chris Cole was released from prison on 2 February after serving 15 days for an act of civil disobedience.
Cole was sentenced to 30 days in HMP Wandsworth after refusing to pay a £2,000 fine resulting from nonviolent direct action at the Defence and Security Equipment International 2009 arms fair in which he spray-painted “Stop this bloody business” and “Make peace, not war machines” on the door and pavement at the convention centre.
Cole said that his action and his time in jail are messages to society that there are other options than violence.
“I’m not naïve,” Cole said, “I know people aren’t going to fall over themselves and say: ‘I never thought of that before; it changed my life,’ but it’s something I feel I can do and with luck some people will find themselves challenged by this choice between violence and nonviolence.”
Cole is not the only peace activist to have a recent prison sentence resulting from a nonviolent direct action against war and weapons.
In January, Georgina Smith was sentenced to 45 days in prison for refusing to pay a fine incurred from a similar action. Smith painted “Genocide,” “No More War Crimes,” and “Respect the War Dead,” among other statements, on the wall of the Edinburgh high court on Armistice Day 2006. Her actions were a protest against the high court’s alleged complicity in the deployment of Trident nuclear weapons in the UK.
The high court ruled deployment of the nuclear weapons to be legal although the international court of justice determined a decade earlier that the threat or use of nuclear weapons was generally unlawful.
Smith was fined £3,000 for criminal damage. She had already served time for the action, but was sentenced to 45 days in HMP Cornton Vale for refusing to pay the ordered compensation. An anonymous supporter paid the fine and Smith was released on 7 February after serving 13 days of her sentence.
Recently, Sylvia Boyes was also given a jail sentence for her refusal to pay a fine stemming from an action in protest of Trident. Boyes, a 67-year-old Quaker, was fined £700 for aggravated trespass, breach of the peace, and malicious mischief as a result of several direct actions. Boyes painted a rock with “Scots! Say no to Trident,” blockaded the nuclear weapons storage facility at Coulport, and walked through the main gate of the UK’s nuclear weapons facility along with four other activists in 2009. As a result of her refusal to pay the fine, on 3 February, Boyes was sentenced to 14 days in prison at HMP New Hall.
Returning to Chris Cole, the Christian activist said that he sees his protests as part of a lifetime of resistance. “I’ve been doing this for more than 20 years, and I’ll go on doing it for another 20 years,” Cole said. “We want the world to be different. This is not how the world has to be, and we all have our part to play. This is my part.”