Eight acquitted for DSEI arms fair action

IssueJune - July 2016
News by David Polden

On 15 April, eight people from Bahrain, Belgium, Chile, Peru and the UK were acquitted at Stratford magistrates’ court of obstructing the highway during the defence & security equipment international (DSEI) arms fair held in East London last September.

The defendants were: Isa Al-Aali from Bahrain; Bram Vranken from Belgium; Javier Garate Neidhart from Chile; Luis Tinoco Torrejon from Peru; and Angela Ditchfield, Lisa Butler, Thomas Franklin and Susannah Mengesha from the UK.

The activists argued that by blocking access roads to DSEI they were attempting to prevent a greater crime: the promotion of torture weapons, and the sale of arms to countries complicit in war crimes such as Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Israel and Bahrain.

The defendants called expert witnesses from Amnesty International, Campaign Against Arms Trade and the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy, who gave evidence that illegal weapons and instruments of torture had been promoted for sale at DSEI, and that the arms fair is used to sell weapons knowing that they will be used for human rights abuses.

District judge Angus Hamilton said in his summing up:

‘The court has been presented with clear, credible and largely unchallenged evidence from three experts that criminal wrongdoing had occurred at past DSEI exhibitions involving the sale of arms to countries which then used those arms against civilian populations and the sale of items that were inherently unlawful such as cluster munitions and items designed for torture and inappropriate restraint. There was, as a result, a compelling inference that such activities would also take place at the 2015 DSEI exhibition.…

‘The court was also presented with clear, credible and largely unchallenged evidence that such criminal activities are not being properly investigated and, where appropriate, prosecuted. Ample evidence of this was provided by the three experts. One can also look at the response of the police officers to whom these individual defendants complained about likely criminal activity occurring at the 2015 DSEI fair. Such complaints were not, apparently, taken seriously and no action was taken in relation to them.’

The crown prosecution service is appealing to the high court.