The former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, is among the people to have sent messages of support to five Christians who appeared in court yesterday (24 September) after disrupting the London arms fair.
The five, who include a Methodist minister, pleaded Not Guilty in Thames Magistrates’ Court in east London to a breach of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994.
They insist they did nothing wrong when they blocked an entrance to the arms fair by kneeling in prayer. They say they were inspired by Jesus’ example of nonviolent direct action in the Jerusalem Temple, when he protested against the exploitation of the poor.
Their action ensured that entry to the arms fair from Custom House station was blocked for around 45 minutes on 10 September. Some arms dealers took a long route round while others were delayed as trains were slowed down on their way to the station.
Later that day, two companies were thrown out of the arms fair for selling torture equipment.
The five – James Clayton, Symon Hill, Chloe Skinner, Chris Wood and Daniel Woodhouse – say they have been deeply moved by many messages of support from people of varied religions and none.
Dr Rowan Williams, who served as Archbishop of Canterbury until 2012, wrote to the five last week and wished them well for the trial.
“The world's conscience is rightly shocked by the use of chemical weapons in Syria,” said Dr Williams, “But we need to remember that there are many other illegal forms of weaponry – and the international arms trade continues to turn a blind eye to the promotion and sale of many of these.”
He added, “I am very grateful for those who have courageously drawn attention to the scandal of this situation, and to the wider question of the way governments support and subsidise the arms trade. Outrage about one kind of horrific and illegal weaponry will not be taken seriously unless it is part of a comprehensive willingness to tackle all forms of collusion with technologically advanced violence against human beings.”
The London arms fair is known formally as Defence & Security Equipment International (DSEi).
Prior to today's hearing, the defendants met with friends and supporters in a nearby cafe to pray and share communion together.
The five Christians include members of anti-capitalist network Christianity Uncut and the SPEAK Network. Two others – Angela Ditchfield and Alison Parker– joined them to block the entrance, but left before the arrests took place.
Another 25 people were arrested for other peaceful protests at the arms fair, including several Christians. Yesterday, four people were convicted of a range of charges after peacefully blocking entrances to the office of arms firm Lockheed Martin.
Chloe Skinner said that future generations would be unable to understand why arms dealers were allowed to sell weapons, and even torture equipment, to dictators, while those who tried to stop it ended up in the dock.
She added, “This is a sign that we live in a system with an inverted sense of morality.”
The World Methodist Council, meeting in London while the arms fair was underway, also expressed support for “Christians and others engaged in peaceful protest against the arms fair”.