The arms trade is guilty, not those who pray for peace

The arms trade is guilty, not those who pray for peace

Today (3 February 2014) five Christian peace activists go on trial at Stratford Magistrates’ Court in East London. They are charged with aggravated trespass. One of the five is Symon Hill, a writer, researcher and activist who is also an Ekklesia associate, assisting us with several areas of work. He was formerly a directorial colleague for a period.

The others on trial are Dan Woodhouse, a trainee minister in the Methodist Church, PhD student Chloe Skinner, caterer Chris Wood and teacher James Clayton.

The charges they face relate to events in September 2013, when the five knelt in prayer to block the entrance to the London arms fair, also known as the Defence and Security Equipment International (DSEi) exhibition. The protestors, in singing hymns and praying together, prevented arms dealers from entering the site for nearly an hour. Their action was a principled Christian act of resistance to the murderous global consequences of the multi-billion pound international weapons trade.

None of the defendants have any previous criminal records and they have all entered pleas of Not Guilty to the court. They face up to three months' imprisonment and fines for their action.

By comparison, on the same day as the five kneeled to pray and protest, two companies were thrown out of the exhibition for displaying illegal torture equipment. However, they were removed only after their illegality was raised by an MP in Parliament. Their staff and managers were neither arrested nor charged with any crime, reports Renewal & Resistance.

The contrast starkly illustrates the complicity of the policing and legal system, as well as mainstream politics and commerce, in perpetuating and defending the military-industrial complex in Britain and abroad.

The five have received support from many people of Christian faith, of other faith, and of good faith but not religious convictions. They have included the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, Green MP Caroline Lucas, Occupy, and the United Reformed Church -- as well as many Christian peace and justice NGOs.

Symon Hill wrote on his blog recently: “I have been moved to tears by the messages of support we have received. I thank God that we are being upheld and assisted by friends and strangers. I am conscious that what we have done is fairly minor compared to the actions of peaceful protesters in places such as Bahrain, who risk torture and death from a regime that was able to do weapons deals at the London arms fair.”

Ekklesia's directors, associates and many friends would like to add their own message of support to Symon and his colleagues.

Expressions of support and interest:

* Attend one of the peaceful vigils to be held outside the court on both Monday 3 and Tuesday 4 February, from 9.00am onwards.

* Reflect and/or pray: There will be a moment of silence at 10.00am each day in memory of the victims of the arms trade.

* Follow the trial and aftermath on Twitter: @PutDowntheSword. The hashtag is #StopDSEi.

* Leave a message of support on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/events/1414329932128337/

* Resistance and Renewal: http://resistanceandrenewal.net

* Find out more on Christians Against the Arms Fair: https://www.facebook.com/Christiansagainstthearmsfair

* More from Ekklesia on protests against the London Arms Fair: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/tags/8731

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© Simon Barrow is co-director of Ekklesia.

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