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British Muslim soldier arrested over Yemen war protest

25th Sep 2020
British Muslim soldier arrested over Yemen war protest

(Photo credit: standforjustice_sfj/instagram)

Nadine Osman

Anti-war campaigners are calling on the army to drop all disciplinary proceedings against a British Muslim soldier who was arrested for staging a protest against the UK’s involvement in the Saudi bombing of Yemen outside the head quarters of the Ministry of Defence.

Yemen-born Lance Corporal Ahmed al-Babati, absconded from duty to protest in his uniform in Whitehall on August 24.

During his demonstration he blew a whistle every 10 minutes, representing how often a child is said to die in the conflict. Campaigners argue the UK was implicated because it had recently restarted the supply of arms to Saudi Arabia that could be used in the long-running war against its southern neighbour.

Arrest of Lance Corporal Ahmed al-Babati

He brought a handmade placard saying, ‘I refuse to continue my military service until the deal with Saudi comes to an end,’ and he remained in position until he was arrested by military police.

Babati pre-recorded a message on his newly created Stand for Justice Instagram account, in which he said, “I joined the army in 2017 and took an oath to protect and serve this country, not to be part of a corrupt government that continues to arm and support terrorism.”

He adds, “As somebody that was born in Yemen, I could have easily fell victim to one of those airstrikes or died out of hunger.” Serving soldiers are not allowed to protest in uniform and are told not to participate in “political marches or demonstrations.”

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Outside 10 Downing St

A post shared by SFJ (@standforjustice_sfj) on

The situation presents a dilemma for the army. Further action would almost certainly boost publicity for Babati’s protest.

As of September 5, an online petition launched by Stop the War urging Babati be pardoned from any disciplinary action has to-date garnered over 6,200 signatures.

The former MP Emma Dent Coad, a patron of Stop the War, said, “We expect courage from our military personnel, but the stand Ahmed al-Babati has taken shows deep moral courage that is exemplary.”

Britain’s leading arms’ maker, BAE Systems, has sold £15 billion worth of goods and services to Saudi Arabia over the last five years, principally supplying and maintaining Tornado and Typhoon aircraft used in bombing missions.

In July the UK Government resumed its arms sales to Saudi Arabia, despite concerns they could be used against civilians in Yemen, in violation of international humanitarian law.

Arms trade was suspended in 2019 after a legal challenge by campaigners.
A subsequent review found “isolated incidents” of possible violations, but no pattern of non-compliance and “no clear risk” of future serious breaches.

he Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT) said it was a “morally bankrupt” move.CAAT’s Andrew Smith told The Muslim News, “Ahmed al-Babati is absolutely right to protest and we stand in solidarity with him and everyone else taking action against this terrible war.

The Saudi-led bombing has killed thousands of people and inflicted a brutal humanitarian crisis on Yemen. Boris Johnson and his colleagues have played a complicit and shameful role in the crisis.

UK-made weapons have been central to the bombardment, with Saudi forces using UK-made fighter jets to drop UK-made bombs.

“The best thing that Downing Street could to help the situation is to stop their uncritical political and military support for the Saudi regime.”

An Army spokesperson told The Muslim News, “Service personnel are entitled to participate in peaceful demonstrations as private citizens. However, this must be done in their own time, in civilian clothing, and in a manner that does not bring the Army into disrepute.

“The investigation following Lance Corporal Ahmad Albatati’s arrest remains ongoing and it would therefore be inappropriate to comment further,” he added.

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