Protesters who had blocked the road outside one of the world's largest arms fairs were cleared of charges on Friday, with the judge finding "credible and largely unchallenged evidence" of wrongdoing at the weapons expo.
In mid-September while the DSEI (Defence Security Equipment International) was underway in London, the five men and three women were charged with wilful obstruction of a highway for attempting to stop delivery of equipment to the arms fair.
"They said they had acted to stop the sale of weapons to regimes accused of human rights abuses, including Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Israel," the Guardian reports.
A statement released in November 2015 by the protesters reads, in part, "Whilst outside the Excel Centre we were being detained and arrested by police, inside businessmen prepared to sell weapons designed to torture, maim and kill, for corporate profit." They added, "we invite you to question why it is us—and not the war makers and profiteers —that are on trial."
As the Independent reported, "District Judge Angus Hamilton accepted the defendants' argument that they had tried to prevent a greater crime from occurring by blocking a road to stop tanks and other armored vehicles from arriving at the exhibition center."
“[There is] clear, credible and largely unchallenged evidence from the expert witnesses of wrongdoing at DSEI and compelling evidence that it took place in 2015," the Independent reports Hamilton as saying.
"It was not appropriately investigated by the authorities. This could be inferred from the responses of the police officers, that they did not take the defendants' allegations seriously."
IBTimes UK adds:
Kat Hobbs, coordinator of Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT), told the court Bahrain had been invited by the UK government to previous DSEI exhibitions in 2009, 2013 and 2015 despite the regime using weapons against pro-democracy protests. There was also evidence of UK-manufactured arms being sold to Saudi Arabia to be used in attacks on Yemen, including BAE Systems fighter jets and Raytheon's Paveway bombs.
One of the defendants, Thomas Franklin, 57, said he attempted to block access to the exhibition so weapons could not be sold to regimes that abuse human rights and the act was "in preparation for a crime". He told the court: "In every single previous arms fair, that had been found to be happening. We have evidence of that. We have parliamentary reports, we have reports from Amnesty International, we have reports from Caroline Lucas, the Green MP, listing illegal weapons being sold."
Following the ruling at the Stratford Magistrates Court, CAAT posted a statement by the protesters, which reads:
Over the week [of the trial], we have put DSEI and the arms trade on trial and we have proven them to be illegitimate. Our only regret is that we didn't succeed in shutting down DSEI.
Our thoughts are with the people who suffer as a result of the arms trade and the survivors of repressive regimes, torture, war and conflict. We call on more people to join us in our efforts to shut down DSEI 2017 and take collective action to end the arms trade.
DSEI boasts on its website that it "has attracted an unprecedented level of UK Government support," and offers "Unrivalled business opportunities with over 32,000 attendees." CAAT, meanwhile, was in 2012 awarded the Right Livelihood Award, also known as the Alternative Nobel Prize, with the award organization saying CAAT "has exposed the corruption, hypocrisy and lethal consequences around this trade and has been instrumental in holding the UK government and arms companies to account for the same."
The protesters' supporters took to Twitter to welcome the acquittal:
— CAAT (@CAATuk) April 15, 2016
— Lisa Cumming (@LisaDialogue) April 15, 2016
— Peace Action WGTN (@PeaceActionWGTN) April 15, 2016
— Ian Brownhill (@CounselTweets) April 15, 2016
Huge victory today for the peace movement. #StopDSEI
— Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei (@SAlwadaei) April 15, 2016
— Sam Walton (@SamWalton) April 15, 2016