Six anti-drone protesters (myself included) were arrested inside RAF Waddington on Monday (June 3). The protest had three aims; 1) to symbolically breach the secrecy and silence surrounding the British use of armed drones; 2) to bring information about the impact of airstrikes on Afghan civilians and 3) to symbolically begin conversion of the air base to peaceful purposes. We did this by creating a peace garden within the base, displaying information on buildings, hangars and sign posts about the impact of airstrikes on Afghan civilians (see bottom of post) and trying to find out information about the day-to-day use of drones at Waddington.
We were in the base for over an hour before being detained and arrested on suspicion of criminal damage. After being held on the base for some time we were driven off the site and saw large queues of traffic. Our presence had meant the base was ‘locked down’ with all activity coming to a halt and no one was allowed to enter or exit the base.
We were detained by the police for over two hours before being processed. At this point we were told that we were being held incommunicado and not allowed a phone call to inform anyone of our arrests or to contact a solicitor. Unbeknown to us permission was being sort to gain entry to our houses in order to seize computers, mobile phones, diaries, and documents. In the afternoon we were each interviewed and told that we would be released and bailed pending further enquiries. By 10pm however it was becoming clear that we would be held overnight.
At 2am we were each awoken to be told we were being charged with aggravated trespass and conspiracy to commit criminal damage. These are both serious charges with the conspiracy charge meaning a trial in crown court rather than a magistrates court. In addition I was told there was a warrant for my arrest for non-payment of fines relating to a previous acts of civil disobedience.
Next morning we were taken to court only to be informed that these more serious charges had been suddenly and mysterious withdrawn and we were instead to be charged with ‘simple’ criminal damage to a fence. We all pleaded not guilty intending to argue that our actions were justified given the circumstances. An interim hearing will be held on July 4 and a trial will take place later in the year. We were given bail on condition that we did not re-enter Lincolnshire except to attend court hearings.
I was then held overnight again before being driven to Camberwell Magistrates Court in London. At first the court refused to accept me as they knew nothing about any warrant. However eventually I was brought before a magistrate who wiped the outstanding fines and court costs due to ‘time served’, given time to pay the remaining balance, and released.
The extreme reaction to our presence at RAF Waddington with the laying of very serious charges only for a complete and sudden reversal within hours betrays, I believe, the nervousness felt by those in charge of UK drone operations.
Behind the scenes it appears that the powers that be now appear to questioning whether or not to maintain the ‘just say nothing’ tactic as it is perceived as no longer working, with a growing chorus of MPs, Peers, journalists, lawyers and activists demanding answers and information about the use of armed drones. Those maintaining the secrecy around the use of drone are coming under increasing pressure – and the message from us all is that it will only increase.
Below is the information that was posted around the base. It is a representative sample of ten airstrikes over the past five years that have killed and injured civilians in Afghanistan. Click images for more info.