Last night I joined activists from several groups including the Network for Police Monitoring, Global Justice Now, Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants, London Mexico Solidarity, London Campaign Against Arms Trade and Stop the Arms Fair for a protest outside the Home Office to call for an end to the ‘Security and Policing’ arms fair.
Security and Policing is a secretive arms fair that brings together governments, police forces and military delegations from around the world with the arms companies supplying weapons and other equipment used for repression and surveillance. Held at the Farnborough air base, it’s marketed as a “discreet environment” to “display products which would be too sensitive to show in a more open environment”. The UK government’s arms export body was responsible for officially inviting international delegations, and this year’s invite list included Saudi Arabia, Israel, Bahrain, Turkey and Mexico.
As we gathered, people lit candles in memory of people killed by state repression, conflict and police violence. It was a cold and drizzly evening, and felt slightly awkward with the large numbers of photographers and journalists who had turned up. But while at first it might have been easy to feel removed from ‘Security and Policing’, as soon as the first speaker took the microphone; the impacts of arms fairs and the companies that are profiting from conflict and police militarisation became chillingly real.
People shared first-hand experiences of state repression, torture, detention and repressive surveillance. We also heard from people who have been working with the families of people killed in custody or shot by police. An activist from London Mexico Solidarity talked about the murder of three students and forced disappearance of 43 students and the complicity of Heckler and Koch (exhibiting at Security and Policing).
Isa from Bahrain spoke about being arrested and tortured when he was 17 during the Bahraini uprising, and then being put in detention when he sought asylum in England. He talked about the UK’s complicity in the repression through it’s arms sales and support for the Bahraini regime. Isa is currently facing trial for taking action against the DSEI arms fair last September.
After people had shared their stories, we had a moment of silence followed by people naming those killed by conflict, state violence and police. We remembered the civilians killed in Yemen by British weapons in the Saudi-led bombing; and the thousands of people who have been killed trying to cross the border from Mexico to the US.
It’s the same companies that are fuelling and profiting from conflict, the heavy policing of borders, police militarisation and increased surveillance of civilians. Increased militarisation doesn’t improve security or make any of us safer; it makes the world a more dangerous place. Last night’s protest was an example of how different groups and movements are starting to work together to overcome the systems that sustain repression and violence.
- Follow #TheyDontMakeUsSafer on Twitter to find out about other ways people took action during Security and Policing.
- Take action: Find out about actions against other arms fairs