Prize-winning authors condemn weapons fairs run by London Book Fair's organisers

2 March 2006

A group of thirteen internationally renowned writers have called upon the organisers of next week's London Book Fair to end their involvement in the global arms trade. The group, which includes two winners of the Nobel Prize for Literature and six winners of the Man Booker Prize, have signed a public letter, to be published tomorrow (Thurs 2 March) in the Times Literary Supplement, condemning the portfolio of international arms fairs operated by Reed Exhibitions, an arm of global publishers Reed Elsevier and organisers of the London Book Fair.[1]

Coordinated by the UK-based Campaign Against Arms Trade, the letter is signed by A.S. Byatt, J.M. Coetzee, John Carey, Nadine Gordimer, Mark Haddon, Nick Hornby, Mike Leigh, Yann Martel, Ian McEwan, Will Self, Graham Swift, Adam Thorpe and Arabella Weir.

They single out DSEI (Defence Systems and Equipment International), Europe's largest arms fair, last held by Reed Exhibitions in September 2005 at the same venue as the London Book Fair, the ExCeL Centre in London's Docklands. Writing on the eve of Reed's most prestigious international literary event, the authors argue that:

“Reed Exhibitions have publicly insisted that “the defence industry is central to the preservation of freedom and national security”. Yet military buyers were invited [to DSEI] from some of the world's most violent and repressive regimes, including Colombia, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, and China, currently subject to a United Nations arms embargo. Reed claims that its arms fairs are subject to “the highest standards of scrutiny and compliance with the law”. Yet at DSEI more than one company was found openly (and illegally) advertising torture equipment.[2] Despite opposition from the local community, London's mayor and even the Metropolitan Police, Reed Elsevier plans to bring its arms fair back to London in 2007.

“We are appalled that our trade should be commercially connected to one which exacerbates insecurity and repression, and which props up regimes inimical to free expression. We call upon Reed Elsevier to end its involvement in a dirty and damaging business; and upon our colleagues to encourage Reed Elsevier to take the book trade out of the arms trade.”

The writers' public call follows criticism from Reed Elsevier's flagship scientific publication, The Lancet, which in September called upon its owners to end their involvement in the arms trade after a critical statement issued by public health experts from five continents, also coordinated by CAAT.[3]

Anna Jones, events co-ordinator for the Campaign Against Arms Trade, said:

“Reed's arms fairs oil the wheels of the global weapons trade. Last September, in the conference centre where Europe's leading publishers and writers will be gathering next week, Reed Exhibitions brought together companies offering weaponry ranging from small arms - the cause of an estimated 500,000 deaths each year - to tanks and cluster bombs, and buyers from some of the world's most repressive regimes. As a publisher, Reed is risking its reputation - and the support of the book trade - by continuing to promote weapons proliferation around the world.”[4]

For information or interview, contact Campaign Against Arms Trade, (+44)207 281 0297, media(at)caat·org·uk


  1. Booker Prize winners are Yann Martel (2002), J.M. Coetzee (1999), Ian McEwan (1998), Graham Swift (1996), A.S. Byatt (1990) and Nadine Gordimer (1974). J.M. Coetzee (2003) and Nadine Gordimer (1991) have also received the Nobel Prize for Literature. Reed Exhibitions organise arms fairs in London, Rio de Janeiro, Taipei, Cambridgeshire, Southampton, Paris and Singapore.
    The London Book Fair, one of the world's leading trade events for publishers, authors and booksellers, takes place from 5-7 March 2006.
  2. 'Banned stun guns and leg irons advertised at arms fair', The Guardian, 16 Sept 05
  3. 'Reed criticised for arms link', BBCi, 9 Sept 2005
  4. Casualty estimate from Graduate Centre for International Studies Geneva, Small Arms Survey 2002 (Oxford University Press 2002), (cited here)
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