In the third part of Real Media’s interview with NetPol’s Campaign Co-ordinator, Kevin Blowe, he is joined by the Media Co-ordinator for Campaign Against The Arms Trade, Emily Apple.
The Defence and Security Equipment International ‘exhibition’ is back at the Excel Centre, and government officials, weapons manufacturers and arms traders will mingle to make deals which are likely to end up with the killing of innocent civilians around the world.
Among the states attending are such bastions of human rights as Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Bahrain and Qatar, and among the weapons companies selling their deadly wares will be Elbit Systems, accused of complicity in war crimes against Palestinian people.
Rather than investigating and upholding international law, London’s Metropolitan Police will be outside the Excel Centre, trying to prevent arms protesters from enforcing those laws by interfering with the set-up of the exhibition.
Over the years, several major court cases have been won, and protesters acquitted by magistrates or juries, after demonstrating their disruptive actions were proportionate and lawful. In 2016, torture weapons were found to have been traded at DSEI. Famously (in legal and campaigning circles), the Ziegler case established the right to obstruct the highway as an act of protest.
But last year’s Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act, this year’s Public Order Act 2023, and more especially the Home Secretary’s totally unconstitutional redefinition of ‘serious disruption’, are all likely to impact the legal landscape around this year’s protests.
As explained by Kevin and Emily, two sections of the Public Order Act are still awaiting commencement orders, but these can be given with a day’s notice, so the concern is that if the protests become too large, disruptive or unmanageable, one or both will be introduced.
The first is the power for police officers to carry out suspicionless searches at protests, for items that may be used to aid disruption – a wide category that could include bicycle locks, glue, chains and ‘props’. The second power is longer term – the serving of Serious Disruption Prevention Orders against protest organisers – but this will involve increased use of surveillance to build up cases against individuals.
The Network For Police Monitoring (NetPol) will be attending throughout the DSEI protests, and along with legal observers from Green and Black Cross will be collecting evidence of how the police are using their powers at the event.