British soldier refuses to serve over Yemen war: 'End unlawful arms trade with Saudi Arabia'

British soldier refuses to serve over Yemen war: 'End unlawful arms trade with Saudi Arabia'
A British soldier under investigation by military police over a demonstration he attended against the war in Yemen spoke to The New Arab about his reasons to protest.
3 min read
26 August, 2020
Ahmed Al-Babati speaks out against UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia (Picture: SFJ)
A non-commissioned officer in the British Army is being investigated by UK military police after attending a protest against the war in Yemen

Twenty-two-year-old Lance Corporal Ahmad Albatati from Sheffield, was born in Yemen and posted a video online protesting Saudi Arabia "war crimes" in Yemen.

The video happened shortly before he attended a protest outside the UK Ministry of Defence in Whitehall, London.

He announced he will not serve in the military until the UK government ends its arms trade with Saudi Arabia.

Albatati, who belongs to the 14 Signals Regiment, wore his uniform and held a placard that read: "I refuse to continue my military service until the deal with Saudi Arabia comes to an end."

He was later arrested and led away by Royal Military Police.

"I'm a communications engineer in the Royal Signals Corps. I've made this decision based on the lack of consideration of our government towards the people of Yemen. We are soldiers [who] serve the government, so why should I continue my service to a government that continue to prioritise money over the victims of Yemen," he told The New Arab

"I was released from custody and handed to my unit yesterday. My unit have an understanding of what my intentions are, this movement wasn't against the army but rather against the ones we serve which is the British government. I'm yet to find out what happens next.

He said that he refuses to serve in the military until the UK government ends its "unlawful arms trade" with Saudi Arabia.

"I'm a man of sense so I don't expect or think that the government will do the right thing," he said 

"Going into this I didn't have any expectation, even if this video didn't go viral, at least I can say on the day I get judged that I did my part."

Unlawful war

Last month, the UK announced it will resume its sale of weapons to Saudi Arabia, despite outcry over the devastating civilian death toll caused by the Riyadh-led military campaign in Yemen.

A 2019 court ruling banned UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia, but the government has admitted to breaching the ban several times.

Last year's judgement deemed the government's sale of weapons to Saudi Arabia for use in Yemen to be "unlawful".

The UK is a key supplier of arms and military equipment to Saudi Arabia.

British aeorospace company BAE Systems sold £15 billion ($19 billion) worth of arms and services to Saudi Arabia over the past five years, according to an analysis by the Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT).

CAAT, which is mulling legal options against the UK's move, criticised the government's "disgraceful and morally bankrupt decision" that exposes the "hypocrisy" of UK foreign policy.

"The evidence shows a clear pattern of heinous and appalling breaches of international humanitarian law by a coalition which has repeatedly targeted civilian gatherings such as weddings, funerals, and marketplaces," said CAAT's Andrew Smith.

"The government claims that these are isolated incidents, but how many hundreds of isolated incidents would it take for the government to stop supplying the weaponry?"

CAAT also revealed on Tuesday that between September 2016 and March 2017, the UK's Royal Navy provided training to Emirati and Saudi military personnel, despite the devastating siege on Yemen, where millions of people are reliant on aid to survive.

The Royal Air Force also trained 310 Saudi personnel last year at six sites in the UK, with courses still ongoing despite the huge harm that Saudi-led air strikes on cities and towns in Yemen have caused civilians.

The United Nations have referred to Yemen as the worst humanitarian crisis in history.

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