Last September, a group of Christians knelt in prayer to block the entrance to the London arms fair – known as Defence and Security Equipment International (DSEi). The protestors sang hymns, prayed together and prevented arms dealers from entering the fair for nearly an hour.
On that same day as the protest, two companies were thrown out for displaying illegal torture equipment. But they were removed only after their illegality was raised by an MP in Parliament. Their staff and bosses were neither arrested nor charged with any crime.
But tomorrow morning these five Christian activists go on trial at Stratford Magistrates’ Court in East London. They are charged with aggravated trespass.
Those on trial are Dan Woodhouse, a trainee minister in the Methodist Church, PhD student Chloe Skinner, caterer Chris Wood, teacher James Clayton and writer Symon Hill. They could face up to three months in prison for breaching Section 69 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994.
None have any previous criminal records. They have all entered pleas of Not Guilty.
The former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams has pledged support:
“We still badly need an honest debate about the arms trade – about the kinds of modern armaments that seem to contravene any defensible ethical framework, especially the refinements of anti-personnel weapons which cause most moral scandal. This case has opened up the possibility of such honesty and I hope the chance will not be wasted.”
Support and solidarity
I met one of the protestors, Symon Hill on Friday and he told me more about the case. I was really struck by his calm faithfulness to do what he believed in, despite the potential cost. He writes on his blog:
“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.”
I want to encourage all R&R readers to stand in solidarity with Dan, Chloe, Chris, James and Symon who have put themselves on the line. They stand in a rich tradition of Christian civil disobedience. The Bible is full of examples of those who stood up against oppression of authorities such as Moses, Jeremiah, Daniel and Esther. Jesus himself spent most of his ministry in conflict with the authorities. As the Apostle Peter says in court when he refuses to comply with the authorities’ decision: “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God!”
What you can do:
- Attend: A peaceful vigil will be held outside the court on both Monday 3rd and Tuesday 4th, from 9.00am onwards.
- Reflect / Pray: There will be a moment of silence at 10.00am each day in memory of the victims of the arms trade. If you are a praying person then please pray, otherwise take time to reflect.
- Follow on Twitter: @PutDowntheSword and using the hashtag #StopDSEi.
- Leave a message of support: on this Facebook page
- Find out more: Christians Against the Arms Fair
“We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer