Science Museum Under Fire
for Propping Up Arms Companies as Artists' Group Pulls Out of Exhibition
A new exhibition examining concerns around privacy in the digital age at London’s Science Museum is being sponsored by a company selling arms reportedly used to slaughter civilians in Yemen.
A group of artists has pulled out of an exhibition at London’s Science Museum after discovering that its leading sponsor is a major US defence firm which has made billions from selling arms to Saudi Arabia.
The street art collective Protest Stencil announced it was withdrawing artwork from the museum’s new free special exhibition on code-breaking and secret communications, ‘Top Secret: From Ciphers to Cyber Security’ after Raytheon was named as the leading sponsor.
While Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson pushed to continue the arms sales just a month after the 2016 bombing of a Yemeni funeral, which left at least 140 dead.
Raytheon is headquartered in the US, but manufactures many of its products in the UK – one of the most popular being the Paveway IV smart bomb, which is among several munitions that rights groups say have been used to slaughter civilians in the Yemen conflict.
In a statement made shortly after the withdrawal, a spokesperson for Protest Stencil accused the Science Museum of ‘artwashing’ – an attempt to improve the image of a company that has been involved in human rights abuses by using cultural events.
“In March, the Science Museum got in touch saying they were planning an exhibition about data and data breaches,” they said. “They asked if they could display one of our Facebook adhack posters from last year. We agreed, thinking it was for an exhibition about the perils of social media and data capture. Then we found out that the event was being used as a promotional tool by Raytheon, one of the biggest arms companies in the world. We won’t be part of this kind of ‘artwashing’. We hope other artists will also choose not to lend their work to exhibitions that seek to normalise death and destruction.”
Details of the sponsorship emerged just weeks after the UK Court of Appeal ruled that British arms sales to Saudi Arabia are unlawful because the Government “made no concluded assessments of whether the Saudi-led coalition had committed violations of international humanitarian law in the past, during the Yemen conflict, and made no attempt to do so”.
Since the start of the bombing campaign against Yemen in 2015, the UK has licensed arms sales worth £4.7 billion to Saudi Arabia, many involving products from Raytheon. The company was also integral to a series of letters of intent signed in 2017 for Saudi Arabia to purchase arms from the US, in a deal estimated to be worth $110 billion.
“They are trying to suggest they are committed to things such as community and children while being complicit in the murder of innocent children in Yemen”Andrew Feinstein
Donald Trump used emergency powers in June this year to not only fast track the sale of 120,000 precision-guided bombs to Saudi Arabia, but to also allow Raytheon to assemble high-tech bomb parts inside the country.
Andrew Feinstein, founding director of Corruption Watch, said that taking part in the Science Museum exhibition is part of an effort by Raytheon to “launder their image”.
“Raytheon is providing a significant number of the munitions that are being used in the illegal murder of innocent civilians by the Saudi-led coalition,” he said. “That has been attested to in the reports of, amongst others, the UN’s Panel of Experts on Yemen. Many of these munitions are produced by Raytheon factories in the UK. By funding the Science Museum, they are trying to suggest they are committed to things such as community and children while being complicit in the murder of innocent children in Yemen. It is appalling.”
A spokesperson for the museum said: “The Science Museum’s corporate sponsors, individual funders, trusts and foundations allowed us to deliver this world-leading exhibition to our audiences free of charge. We respect the artist’s decision though are disappointed that our visitors will miss out on one interesting perspective on concerns around privacy in a digital age. Visitors to Top Secret will experience remarkable stories of communications intelligence and cyber security, supporting our mission to inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers – a goal all our partners strongly support.”
Despite the recent ruling that the UK’s arms sales to Saudi Arabia are unlawful, and the impending change in Prime Minister, it seems likely that the Government will continue to push for them.
Emails disclosed in June via a Freedom of Information request show that, in 2016, the former Foreign Secretary and frontrunner for Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, recommended the sale of bomb parts just days after the Saudis struck a potato factory, killing 14 civilians. He also pushed to continue the arms sales just a month after the 2016 bombing of a Yemeni funeral, which left at least 140 dead. The Saudis later claimed the bombing was a mistake.
“We won’t be part of this kind of ‘artwashing’. We hope other artists will also choose not to lend their work to exhibitions that seek to normalise death and destruction”Protest Stencil
Mr Johnson’s successor as Foreign Secretary and rival for the top job is Jeremy Hunt, who has also pushed for more arms sales. Just three days after journalist Jamal Khashoggi was brutally murdered in the Saudi consulate in Turkey last year, the UK Government approved arms sales to Saudi Arabia worth more than £9 million.
Mr Hunt also urged Germany’s Foreign Secretary to lift a ban on arms sales which was imposed following the murder of Mr Khashoggi, saying he fears for the impact it will have on British and European arms companies.
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Last week, the Government was given leave to appeal the June ruling that British arms sales are unlawful.
Byline Times asked Raytheon about the concerns raised by Protest Stencil and the effort it goes to to ensure that its products are not used to commit war crimes, but it did not respond.
Main photo by Protest Stencil