Arrest arms dealers, not peace campaigners

by Vyara Gylsen

A policeman drags a woman away from a military truck with graffiti on it
The author was arrested outside DSEI arms fair in September 2015 for writing with an erasable marker on a military vehicle’s window.

I was arrested in September 2015 for criminal damage to a military vehicle by writing on it “arms tested on children” with washable ink. It happened during demonstrations against the DSEI expo, one of the world’s largest arms fairs. I must have really hurt the tank’s feelings judging from the way the police rugby tackled me. It is as though I would damage it beyond repair and make it inactive in battle using my dry-wipe marker.

I was manhandled and taken to a police cell for seven hours, experiencing first-hand the hypocrisy of our government and the police for protecting the very people who are doing the biggest criminal damage on the face of the earth: arms dealers and all who buy and use their weapons.

I would like to personally ask the officer who arrested me: would you manhandle the people who sell these weapons of destructions for criminal damages and for crimes against humanity? Is this what you call law and justice?

It wasn’t a planned action. I saw the vehicle and I was emotionally affected by seeing such a beast that would kill people in their thousands, destroy habitats, dreams, countries, families and infrastructure.

The charges against me have now been dropped for a lack of evidence after three court hearings. The second hearing was held on Remembrance Day (otherwise known as Armistice Day), a day that was supposed to mark the end of all wars. We even had the two minute silence during the hearing whilst the peace activists were stood waiting to go on trial for our heinous crimes of trying to prevent war and destruction. The irony was piercing.

They say the pen is mightier than the sword, but in this case, I guess the pen is mightier than the tank, as I was the one sitting in a holding cell charged for an offence, whilst the tanks and those who own and use them walk freely, not found guilty of any crimes. If what I did was a criminal offence, what does that say about the society we live in? The dry-erase marker can be wiped off and forgotten about within seconds, whilst the tank’s form is only the beginning of its terror, causing destruction far beyond what people in safe countries like ours can imagine.

There have been breaches of UK arms legislation in at least three of the last four DSEI exhibitions and not once has any exhibitor or organiser been prosecuted. Then DSEI refused to allow the human rights campaigners to even enter so we won’t even know what illegalities take place.

I’m just a girl with a pen. Why was I so threatening, or dangerous, or criminal, that I should have my liberty taken away whilst war criminals walk free? Whilst exhibitors and organisers who contribute to fueling conflict and supply well-known human rights abusers with more hatred to spill on the world walk free.

Say no to hypocrisy. Say yes to humanity. Arrest arms dealers not peace campaigners.

My trial has ended, but we still have activists on trial for trying to prevent the vehicle of entering. It only emphasizes how much work we need to do on this.

Hold the arms dealers and all those who break the UK arms legislation law accountable and ensure that human rights observers are present at every DSEI event. We also need two way military embargos on countries known for their human rights abuses, such as Israel and Saudi Arabia. For more information about the upcoming trial for those who have not had their cases dropped it, read the joint statement from the DSEI 2015 defendants, who are still raising funds to cover the costs of this expensive trial.

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