Peace activists pleading not guilty to obstruction and trespass

Nzdia2

Sixteen people who protested for peace at the 2015 New Zealand Defence Industry Association Weapons Conference will appear in the Wellington District Court starting today for a week long trial.

The protesters, who took part in a non-violent blockade outside the Wellington conference, have pleaded not guilty.

A week of ongoing resistance to the arms trade will be held during the week of court; including an anti-Weapons Conference petition hand in to Parliament and a vigil for asylum seekers held in Australian offshore detention.

In November 2015, 27 people were arrested over two days for protesting against the NZDIA’s annual Weapons Conference at which global arms dealers such as Lockheed Martin, Babcock and Thales as well as local arms manufacturers such as MAS Zengrange exhibit and network with other arms dealers and military purchasers. The peaceful blockade aimed to hinder the business of war.

“All of us are firmly of the view that the crimes going on at the weapons conference were the ones inside the where the companies were busy making deals to sell more weapons. The people blockading took non-violent direct action to stop the proliferation of death and destruction. We on the other hand were exercising our right to freedom of protest. It’s a travesty that we were arrested – protests happen every week, yet in this instance the police have pursued proceedings against peace activists in a trial set down for a week” said Peace Action Wellington member and arrestee Laura Drew.

The charges for the 16 remaining arrestees are for obstruction and trespass and all have entered a plea of not guilty. Lawyers Michael Bott, Chris Tennet & Daniel Vincent are representing the 16 in court, with others choosing to defend themselves, in a process which is due to run for a week between the 13-17th February. “We’d like to thank the peace and justice community for their support in funding our defense,” continued Drew.

Peace Action Wellington and the arrestees are still committed to anti-war and arms trade activism and have therefore planned a Week of Ongoing Resistance. There will be an anti arms trade demonstration outside Wellington District Court on the first day of proceedings and Tuesday 14th will see a petition with 4,000 signatures opposing the NZDIA Weapons Conference presented to Parliament. On Friday Peace Action will partner with the Double the Quota campaign to hold a vigil outside the Australian High Commission on the anniversary of Iranian asylum seeker Reza Barati’s death on Manus Island.

“We recognise that the issues of war and refugees are inextricably linked and stand in solidarity with those fleeing war to seek safer and better lives,” Drew continues “We’re determined to keep up the struggle against the arms industry. Last year’s blockade of the Weapons Conference in Auckland was extremely successful with many arms dealers locked out – we’re going to continue our campaign and stop the Weapons Conference and the wars it feeds once and for all.”

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After a week in court, all charges were dropped. Here is a statement from PAW:

The court case against fifteen peace activists arrested protesting the 2015 Weapons Conference finished today with the last activist with a trespass charge being found not guilty. Over the course of seven days in court fifteen charges of obstruction, trespass and disorderly behaviour were dismissed or found not guilty due to lack of evidence.

This has been fifteen months of stress, both emotional and financial having these charges hanging over us. Many of the people arrested at the protest were not able to fight the charges because of study, work, travel and other commitments and were forced to take diversion or plead guilty. Those of us who could, choose to fight these charges because we believed we were within or legal rights to protest and were arrested at random to shut down the protest.

At this point we are relieved that no one has been found guilty and the court has vindicated our freedom to protest but it also feels like we have already been punished by the police, who have used these arrests, charges and lengthy court case to deter people from protesting.

Throughout this court case they have accused us of being a violent mob and of assaulting people without any evidence or charges relating to these claims. If anything the police were the violent mob at the protest and have left many people traumatised by their aggressive arrests of peaceful protestors.

The police sought a pre-emptive trespass order days before the protest began which was found to be without legal merit on the first day of the trial because the protest took place on public land. Their priority from the start was not to uphold public order but instead assist business people who profit from war rather than respect peoples right to protest. The real criminals were the companies inside the building busy making deals in weapons.

Recently released figures by The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (Sipri) show that the global arms trade is at it’s highest volume since the Cold War so challenging the arms trade is as important now more than ever, this court case though taxing will not deter us from continuing to take a stand against the arms trade here in Aotearoa.

Thanks to everyone who has supported us during the arrests and court process. Whether it was a message of support, your presence at court, food or financial help every bit of support we have received has helped us fight these charges and win! Thank you!
https://peaceactionwellington.wordpress.com/2017/02/23/not-guilty-court-cas/

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