Cops are already targeting activists wanting to ‘stop the arms fair’ at DSEI

Cops targeting activists at DSEI arms fair
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Defence and Security Equipment International (DSEI) is one of the world’s largest arms fairs. It’s taking place at the ExCeL Centre in London between 12 and 15 September. The biannual event is always met with resistance from campaign groups and activists, who are then equally met by heavy-handed treatment by the cops. Already, it looks like this year will be no different – as police targeted activists before anything had even begun.

DSEI: stop the arms fair

As the Canary previously reported, DSEI takes place every two years. Thousands of arms dealers and defence and security suppliers gather at the ExCeL centre to court repressive regimes:

This year, over 2,800 defence and security suppliers will be courting deals. However, every time DSEI takes place, activists also descend on the ExCeL centre and its locality to protest it. Stop the Arms Fair (STAF) organises the resistance – and the Canary has repeatedly reported on this bi-annual horror show.

This year, protests began on 5 September and will run for two weeks:

The group Campaign Against The Arms Trade (CAAT) has already made camp outside the ExCeL Centre:

During the first week, activists will target the setting up of the arms fair. However, police are already disrupting protesters’ right to go about their business.

Cops already targeting activists

For example, as campaign group the Network for Police Monitoring (Netpol) wrote on X (formerly Twitter):

Police refused to allow the delivery of portable toilets to the protest camp saying it’s private property – even though campaigners have permission for them and it’s really none of the police’s business. The usual petty restrictions on the right to demonstrate, in other words

Moreover, cops have already been following CAAT activists – even before they reached the ExCeL centre:

Campaigners have suffered from excessive and violent policing at previous DSEIs. This has included cops using blanket stop-and-search powers, making arrests, disproportionate surveillance, harassment, and deploying spycops. Previous DSEI protests have also shown the institutional and systemic racism that is rife in the police. Protests by marginalised communities faced excessive police violence and harassment.

Former Canary editor Emily Apple, in her capacity as CAAT’s media coordinator, told us:

Time and again at DSEI we’ve seen the police protect the arms dealers, and repress our right to protest against this abhorrent fair. DSEI is a marketplace in death and destruction with deals done at the ExCeL centre causing global misery and devastating people’s lives.

Representatives from regimes such as Saudi Arabia, who have used UK-made weapons to commit war crimes in Yemen, will be wined and dined and encouraged to buy yet more arms.

Arms dealers do not care about peace or security because conflict increases profits for their shareholders. Meanwhile this government has shown repeatedly that it cares more about the money made from dodgy deals with dictators than it does about the people whose lives will be ruined by the sales made at DSEI.

Yet despite the violence perpetrated inside the ExCeL centre, the police view protesters as the problem, not arms dealers. But this year we’re also sending the police a message. You will be watched and you will be held accountable for repressive policing.

Cat and mouse policing

Netpol will be central to the monitoring of police at the arms fair. It’s already made it clear it wants to hear from any activists targeted by cops:

The group’s campaigns coordinator Kevin Blowe told the Canary :

There is often a huge gulf between police promises to “respect human rights” at protests and campaigners’ experiences of aggressive policing, racial profiling, intrusive police surveillance and mistreatment at the hands of officers.

This year’s opposition to the DSEi arms fair, however, is taking place in the aftermath of a growing state intolerance towards protesters and increasingly restrictive anti-protest legislation. Not all the new powers given to the police are in place yet, but the Home Secretary has decided that the definition of “serious disruption” means anything causing more than a minor hindrance, and Netpol believes this is more likely to lead to arrests in the week before the arms fair begins, when in previous years the ExCeL centre has been blockaded by demonstrators.

It is already easier for the police to impose strict conditions on a demonstrations, but we do not yet know if the Metropolitan Police will become the first to make arrests for the new criminal offences of locking-on and going equipped to lock-on. These offences target the methods by which disruption might potentially take place, rather than focusing on the actual degree of disruption a protest could lead to.

Netpol believe new police powers exist primarily to further criminalise the right to dissent and to intimidate people into not joining protest movements that the police recognise are likely to grow. That is why we are monitoring the impact of policing on the right to freedom of assembly during DSEI and are urging campaigners to tell us about their experiences.

Bear in mind that this was on the first day when cops followed activists, and blocked the entry of their toilets. With STAF organising numerous events, including a ‘Festival of Resistance’ on Saturday 9 September, the police response is likely to be more disproportionate than ever. Saturday’s event has historically seen the most repressive policing. Not that this will deter activists – it never did in previous years.

Featured image via CAAT

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  • Show Comments
    1. As ever, this all appears more like a pas de deux between mainly middle-class protestors and the police than a movement of the people. After decades of such actions, has the arms trade been reduced by one bullet, one rifle or one bomb? If the answer is No, then it is surely time to reconsider the whole shebang and look towards political solutions offered by socialism. NGOs and protest groups have little effect under a two-party political system which is entirely dominated by right wing, capitalist-imperialist ideology.

      1. What do you mean by “start again”? The police in a capitalist state exist to enforce the class war. Disbanding a particular police force (and that name is well chosen) and replacing it with another police force would change nothing.

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