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Arms dealers on trial


© Campaign Against the Arms Trade

Back in September 2013, having been arrested for blockading the entrance to the world’s biggest arms fair in East London, I would never have imagined that a few months later I’d be part of a group taking a private criminal prosecution against some arms dealers. But the opportunity arose and seemed too valuable from a campaigning perspective to let pass by.

In the days after our arrests, two arms companies, Tianjin Myway International Trading Co and Magforce International, were thrown out of the Defence and Security Equipment International (DSEI) arms fair after Caroline Lucas MP presented evidence in the British parliament that they were breaking the law on arms control.  They were busted after a journalist at the fair challenged them for advertising torture weapons in their brochures – including electric stun guns, batons and weighted leg fetters.

We thought it would useful to know more about this so we submitted freedom of information requests to the authorities. Their response was, basically, ‘sod off’ – they refused to confirm or deny anything, despite widespread media coverage and a statement by the organizers of the arms fair.

But we kept pressing for the information, which was also important for our own criminal trials. We’d been charged with obstruction of the highway for various acts of resistance to the arms fair, and in our defence we intended to argue that we were intervening to prevent crimes against humanity, such as torture. A week before our trials in February, when it looked like the judge may force the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) to disclose its investigations of the arms companies thrown out of the fair, the CPS suddenly dropped the case against us, without giving reasons. Interesting, we thought.

Since we’d collected a fair bit of information about these companies, and as the authorities had no interest in prosecuting them, we decided to get on with it ourselves.  

The first hearing was held in April and the next substantive hearing will be on 26 November at Thames Magistrates’ Court in East London. Tianjin didn’t turn up at court for the last hearing or send a representative, but French company Magforce – which is much bigger and mentioned in various UN reports discussing arms control violations – did, with a troop of lawyers including a London-based QC who is an expert in war crimes. This suggests that Magforce is taking the matter seriously. We’re pleased that we’ve already managed to cause them some economic damage. It’s possible that the actual trial will be scheduled in 2015; if so, we’re hoping it will cast a shadow over next year’s DSEI arms fair and send a message to all exhibitors and participants who trade in arms. We see these criminal proceedings as part of a wider strategy to discredit and ultimately shut down the DSEI arms fair for good.

Between now and the next court hearing, we need to popularize and publicize this prosecution. You can help us by writing about it, talking about it, coming to our fundraiser event in London (details will be announced on the website soon), creating memes and more! We also welcome donations to the legal fighting fund.  

Keep up to date with the case and the Arms Dealers on Trial campaign on Facebook and Twitter.

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