In a judgment handed down today (Friday July 14 2017), the High Court overturned the acquittal of eight anti-militarists for disrupting the setup of the DSEI arms fair in 2015. Nevertheless, it ruled that in the interests of justice, none of the activists would be re-tried or face costs.

The activists were acquitted of Obstructing the Highway at the entrance to the arms fair by Thames Magistrates Court last year. They had successfully asserted at Magistrates Court that their actions were justified since they were seeking to prevent greater crimes including the promotion for sale of torture weapons, internal repression in Bahrain and the mass indiscriminate killing of civilians in Yemen, Palestine and Kurdistan.

On acquitting the activists, District Judge Angus Hamilton had held that there had been “clear, credible and largely unchallenged evidence from the expert witnesses of wrongdoing at DSEI and compelling evidence that it took place in 2015.” Following the verdict, the CPS twice sought to appeal the acquittals, but was rejected on the basis that the CPS applications were “dishonest”, “frivolous” and “misconceived”.

The CPS finally applied directly to the High Court seeking a judicial review of the activists’ acquittal. The eight activists are: Isa Al-Aali (Bahrain), Lisa Butler, Angela Ditchfield, Thomas Franklin, Susannah Mengesha (UK), Javier Garate Neidhart (Chile), Luis Tinoco Torrejon (Peru),  and Bram Vranken (Belgium).

In a group statement released on the day the judgment was handed down, the activists said: “We remain wholeheartedly unrepentant for seeking to shut down the DSEI arms fair. In circumstances where the state cannot be relied upon to prevent war crimes – and particularly where it is fully complicit in them – it is up to each of us as individuals to act.

“We cannot rely on the Theresa Mays and Donald Trumps of this world, whose idea of keeping us safe and promoting human rights abroad is to arm despotic terroristic head-chopping regimes such as Saudi to the teeth. It is unsurprising that the state should seek to criminalise resistance to the arms fair. History shows us we cannot rely upon the state to prevent oppression.

“The most abhorrent episodes in history  were protected and enforced by their relevant domestic legal frameworks at the time – slavery, apartheid, holocaust and the mass slaughter of indigenous peoples across the globe. In each case the perpetrators and profiteers hid behind the full force of the law to defend their atrocities, including police, armies and weapons.

“And even now, when states and arms companies are in clear breach of international laws on arms exports and human rights, its money and power that talk. It is up to each of us to stop the killing where it starts – at corporate HQs, in the arms factories, and at events such as the DSEI arms fair.

The DSEI (Defence & Security Equipment International) arms fair takes place every two years in London’s Docklands, and is jointly organised by Clarion Events and the UK Government. Buyers include countries involved in conflict and from human rights abusing regimes. Exhibitors attend from around the world, including most of the world’s largest arms companies.

Organisers and arms companies breached UK arms legislation in at least three of the last four DSEI exhibitions, and not once has any exhibitor or organiser been prosecuted. Human rights observers were prevented from entering the last DSEI. The DSEI arms fair is set to return to East London in September 2017.

Andrew Smith of Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT) said:”We need to mobilise the biggest possible opposition when it returns to London later this year. DSEI brings the world’s biggest arms companies together with some of the world’s most oppressive regime. It needs to be closed down for good.”

This week the High Court controversially also rejected a claim by Campaign Against the Arms Trade to stop UK arms exports to Saudi Arabia. Over the course of this case, the Government has also ignored urgent calls from the House of Commons Business Innovation & Skills and International Development committees and the European Parliament, as well as leading NGOs, to impose an arms embargo on Saudi Arabia.