The British government has been actively permitting the country’s arms industry to sell crowd-control gear to some of the world’s most repressive regimes, according to Index on Censorship.
The group found that ministers allowed the selling of £4 million of tear gas, ammunition and CS hand grenades to Saudi Arabia, one of the strictest and least democratic governments in the Middle East.
They also sold crowd control ammunition to states such as Malaysia, Oman, Hong Kong and Thailand.
The United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Azerbaijan have also benefited from British arms sales, with companies permitted to supply them with anti-riot and ballistic shields that will most likely be used by police during protests.
The only export license to be turned down that could have helped crush a public protest was an order of CS hand grenades and ‘tear gas/irritant ammunition’ for Turkey.
Although the UK government is not involved in the manufacture of the arms, it is responsible for allowing them to be exported, deciding on a case-by-case basis whether an arms shipment should be permitted.
The revelations show that ministers have no moral objections to supplying arms to repressive regimes around the world, despite tough rhetoric from the Foreign Office.
As the Geneva Convention forbids the use of gas weapons in military situations, the only other major use for these supplies must be on civilian protesters.
A board member of BAE, the largest arms firm in Britain, told Index on Censorship the “natural place for these decisions is with government”, rather than with the company.
“I’m not abrogating our moral responsibility,” he added, “but it’s right that the burden of these difficult decisions is on the government because, in the UK at least, this is an elected democracy.”