In late August a serving British soldier was arrested for protesting against British involvement in the war being waged by Saudi Arabia against Yemen.
Lance Corporal Ahmed Al-Babati, a soldier in the Royal Signals, absconded from duty to protest in uniform outside the Ministry of Defence (MoD) in London. During his demonstration he blew a whistle every 10 minutes to indicate the death of another child in the conflict.
Footage posted to the internet showed Al-Babati being led away from his protest by military police.
In a video recorded beforehand, Al-Babati explained his motivations: “It is clear this government has blood on their hands, so with that being said I refuse to continue my military service until the arms trade with Saudi Arabia has been put to an end.
“It is reported that a child dies every ten minutes in Yemen, so I’ll be standing outside 10 Downing Street blowing a whistle every ten minutes so that they can hear every time a child dies due to a war they continue to arm and support,”
“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.
“What made this decision so easy for me and why I choose to sacrifice a lot of things including possibly my freedom is for the simple fact that me, myself as somebody that was born in Yemen, I could have easily fell victim to one of those air strikes or died out of hunger.
“I’ve seen enough not to speak out and I’d rather sleep peacefully in a cell than stay silent for a pay cheque.”
At least 18,500 civilians have been killed or injured in air strikes since the war began in 2015, which has also created the world’s biggest humanitarian disaster.
Moreover, some 2 million children under the age of five are suffering from acute malnutrition and hundreds of thousands more have died of hunger during the course of the war. Around half of Yemen’s population is on the verge of starvation.
The Saudi government is one of Britain’s closest military allies, purchasing 49 percent of all UK arms exports. BAE systems alone sold more than £15bn worth of arms and services to the Saudi military in the last five years.
Alongside war materiel, Britain provides training to Saudi air force pilots, with more than 100 trained in the last decade by the RAF and some still in training as of July 2020. In addition, Britain has some 200 military personnel stationed on Saudi soil providing training services, as well as maintaining and repairing aircraft.
Saudi Arabian involvement in Yemen is ostensibly aimed at restoring former president Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi to power following his ousting during the Arab Spring by the Houthi-led popular protest movement. Despite Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates controlling vast swathes of territory in southern Yemen, Hadi has yet to return.
In reality, the war is a pretext to control areas of strategic importance, as well as to monopolise vast untapped natural resources. Britain’s continued interest in facilitating the war in Yemen, despite the many civilian deaths and the ongoing humanitarian disaster, needs no further explanation when one considers the vast profits in arms sales and the possibility of grabbing a share of the Yemini people’s natural resources.
In 2010, British soldier Joe Glenton served nine months in prison for refusing on principle to return to the war in Afghanistan. Al-Babati is likely to receive a similar sentence following his highly public protest.
Workers must give full support to all military personnel who follow their conscience and refuse to take part in criminal wars of imperialist aggression.
More than that, we must work to ensure that all trade unions in Britain adopt an active policy of non-cooperation with criminal imperialist wars, so that workers have full support from their workmates when they refuse to participate in furthering the war effort.
We want an end to the victimisation of individuals who follow their conscience. All workers must be protected from finding themselves in the invidious position of having to choose between assisting in a criminal war or losing their job.
Solidarity with Ahmed Al-Babati!