Direct action would be 'entirely justified' response to arms fair

LONDON, September 10, 2011: Ahead of widespread opposition to next week's London arms fair, the beliefs and values think tank Ekklesia has said that Government ministers will appear inconsistent if they condemn those taking action against the fair - even if campaigners break the law in doing so.

The thinktank also points out that the UK government's role in the arms fair directly undermines ministers' words of support for democracy in the Middle East.

It says that the double standards of ministers will be exposed if they condemn those who take direct action against the arms fair. On the one hand ministers are prepared to promote the sale of weapons to regimes with poor human rights records, whilst on the other they say they support those struggling against those same regimes.

The arms fair, known formally as Defence & Security Equipment International (DSEi), will take place in London's Excel Centre from 13-16 September. The guest list has yet to be published, but in previous years the UK government has invited regimes including Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and China. Representatives of Gaddafi's Libya were invited to the last DSEi, in 2009.

Ekklesia is drawing attention to the wide range of protests that are planned, including lawful demonstrations, a mass lobby of MPs, a multifaith vigil, direct action and street theatre.

Ekklesia suggests that careful, considered, nonviolent direct action would also be a justified response to the arms fair, as well as lawful forms of protest. It is urging those reporting on the event to be balanced and not to equate peaceful lawbreaking with violence. Ekklesia does not condone violence, intimidation or personal verbal abuse.

DSEi is owned by Clarion Events and organised with political and financial support from UK Trade and Investment (UKTI), a unit of Vince Cable's Department for Business. In 2008, users of Mumsnet expressed their opposition when it emerged that the company also run the Baby Show events around the country.

Symon Hill, associate director of Ekklesia said:

"David Cameron and his colleagues have welcomed the removal of dictators in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya. Many people will find their words to be inconsistent with an event that allows some of the world's most oppressive regimes to make arms deals in the capital of Britain.

"When the government fails to restrain the powerful from harming others, nonviolent direct action can be an ethical and effective response. It is a tradition that stretches back to Jesus' protest in the Jerusalem Temple and includes methods developed in the campaign for Indian independence and the civil rights struggle in the US."

ENDS

Notes to Editors:

1. Founded in 2001, Ekklesia examines politics, values and beliefs in a changing world, from a Christian perspective. It has been listed by The Independent newspaper among 20 influential UK think-tanks. According to Alexa/Amazon, it has one of the most-visited religion and politics / current affairs websites in Britain. More: http://ekklesia.co.uk/content/about/about.shtml

2. Defence & Security Equipment International (DSEi) is one of the world's largest arms fairs and has been held every two years in the Excel centre in east London's Docklands since 1999. The 2011 DSEi arms fair is scheduled for 13-16 September 2011. DSEi receives major financial, logistical and political support from the UK government, most notably through UK Trade & Investment Defence & Security Organisation (UKTI DSO). Clarion Events brought DSEi and two other arms fair in May 2008.

3. The UK government has failed to disclose the full list of countries which have received invitations to DSEi. See http://www.caat.org.uk/press/archive.php?url=20110909prs
4. On 8 September, the London Chamber of Commerce and the Royal Bank of Scotland hosted a seminar for arms dealers, with government representatives present, entitled Middle East: A vast market for UK defence and security companies. The venue was moved after the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) called a peaceful demonstration outside.

< 5. Twenty organisations have joined the Stop the Arms Fair coalition. They include NGOs and local residents' groups as well as five Christian organisations - the Fellowship of Reconciliation, London Catholic Worker, Pax Christi, the Speak network and the Student Christian Movement.

6. The Baptist Union of Great Britain, Methodist Church and United Reformed Church issued a joint statement on 8 September in which they criticised the London arms fair. The campaign against the arms fair is also supported by the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) in Britain.