Concerns have been raised with the Scottish Government over its relationship with an arms company that sold Hong Kong tear gas apparently used by police during violent clashes with protestors.
Police in the former British colony were condemned by human rights organisations after firing tear gas at demonstrators involved in mass street protests over the past week.
Campaigners oppose an extradition bill, now suspended due to the scale of the public outcry, that would allow people to be sent to mainland China for trial.
Up to two million people in Hong Kong have taken to the streets to protest but police have used tear gas, pepper spray and rubber bullets against demonstrators during chaotic scenes.
Pictures shared on social media by Omega Research apparently showed that CS gas canisters fired at civilians during clashes were produced by a UK firm called Chemring Defence.
Police in Hong Kong are using what appears to be hand thrown N225 Rubber Bursting CS Grenades, manufactured by the UK-based Chemring Group, against protestors @CAATuk @amnestyHK @AmnestyUK @RiotID @ForensicArchi @forum_asia @ClementBoursin @patrickpoon #HongKongProtests pic.twitter.com/40dqCgePzD
— Omega Research Foundation (@Omega_RF) June 12, 2019
Man-Kei Tam, @amnestyHK: “The ugly scenes of police using tear gas and pepper spray against overwhelmingly peaceful protesters is a violation of international law. Police have a duty to maintain public order, but in doing so they may use force only when strictly necessary." pic.twitter.com/p8v6QrLqlN
— Hong Kong Free Press (@HongKongFP) June 12, 2019
The arms firm is a major supplier to the military and was previously linked to human rights abuses in Egypt when tear gas was used against protestors during the Arab Spring in 2011.
Chemring Energetics has a factory in Stevenston, Ayrshire, where it makes explosives and components for “missile programmes in the US and Europe”
Chemring’s tear gas is currently made at an English site but its Scottish factory has previously been linked to oppressive states. Firms receiving public money from Scottish Enterprise must now meet new human rights standards.
The Ferret reported in June that new due diligence checks had been introduced by Scottish Enterprise following concerns that public money was being given to companies linked to human rights abuses.
Chemring Energetics has been awarded nearly £200,000 of taxpayers’ money – and it receives free business advice from Scottish Enterprise.
War On Want said in 2016 that Chemring made significant profits after being awarded a contract in 2015 worth over £100 million to supply 40mm grenades to an unnamed country in the Middle East.
Chemring has applied for export licences to sell ammunition and equipment to Gulf states including Saudi Arabia, according to War On Want. The campaign group’s report said that a licence was granted in 2012 for the sale of hand grenades to Saudi Arabia, worth £469,215.
Between 2011 and 2015 Chemring requested 78 export licences to sell weapons, ammunition and equipment to Gulf states, War On Want added.
In light of developments in Hong Kong and the new human rights checks, the Scottish Greens have written to First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, expressing concerns over the Scottish Government’s partnership with the firm.
“I am writing to urgently enquire about the Scottish Government’s relationship with Chemring Energetics in light of the ongoing protests in Hong Kong,” wrote Green MSP, Ross Greer.
“As you will know, during the protests in 2014, CS Gas used by the police in their brutal attacks against pro-democracy protestors was manufactured by Chemring. It has been widely publicised that CS Gas, among other forceful measures, is being used in police attacks against the civilians currently protesting in Hong Kong.”
He added: “Many of those protesting are minors. Evidence has already emerged and has been published by Amnesty International suggesting that the CS Gas being used at present was indeed produced by Chemring in the UK.”
It has been widely publicised that CS Gas, among other forceful measures, is being used in police attacks against the civilians currently protesting in Hong Kong. Ross Greer, Green MSP
Greer also asked for details of the purpose of Scottish Government funding to Chemring and whether or not a human rights due diligence check has been carried out on the firm.
“We know that the Scottish Government has given public money and free business support to Chemring over a number of years,” Greer told The Ferret.
“We also know that Chemring supply Hong Kong’s police with CS gas, and that, not for the first time, they deployed CS gas in their brutal attacks on peaceful protestors again this week.”
He continued: “The First Minister herself has admitted that her government supports companies to move into the so-called blue light sector, selling to law enforcement agencies across the world.
“I hope she can confirm to me that giving public cash to those supplying this brutality isn’t what the government had in mind. The only way to prove that though, is to end these constant hand outs to the arms trade.”
The Scottish Government insists that it does not fund the manufacture of munitions with public money, stating previously that business grants can help firms to diversify into the “blue light sector” which includes police and security forces.
In 2015 the British government approved an export licence to Chemring for Hong Kong that included tear gas, according to government data compiled by the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT). The licence allows unlimited deliveries of the items and is valid for five years, meaning it remains valid now.
Anti-riot guns, anti-riot shields, body armour and crowd control ammunition have also been exported.
CAAT said that tear gas from the UK was previously used against democracy protesters in Hong Kong in 2014.
A CAAT spokesman added: “In 2014 police used considerable amounts of teargas to try to disperse protests calling for a free election for the Chief Executive of the territory.
“Images from the ground showed that at least some of the gas used was provided by UK arms company Chemring, which subsequently confirmed that it was a long term provider of tear gas to Hong Kong.
Oliver Feeley-Sprague, Amnesty International UK’s military, security and police programme director, said he was “extremely concerned that pictures appear to show that British-made tear gas is being used against peaceful protesters in Hong Kong”.
He added: “The use of tear gas against civilians is shocking, and we want the UK government to prevent any further supplies of crowd control equipment supplied to Hong Kong that risks being used to threaten legitimate protests.
“The world is watching closely what is happening in Hong Kong, and we urge the authorities there to exercise restraint.”
Chemring refused to confirm or deny whether its products have been used by police in Hong Kong and it declined to comment on its operations in Scotland. A spokesman for the firm added that it complied fully with UK regulations and had no insight into how the end customer used the products it sells.
A spokesperson for Scottish Enterprise said: “We do not provide support for the manufacture of munitions. The aerospace, defence and marine sector in Scotland is very important to our economy and employs around 40,000 people. We work proactively with many companies in this sector to help them diversify their activities and grow and sustain employment.
We do not provide support for the manufacture of munitions. The aerospace, defence and marine sector in Scotland is very important to our economy and employs around 40,000 people. We work proactively with many companies in this sector to help them diversify their activities and grow and sustain employment. Scottish Enterprise
“Chemring Energetics has not been subject to any recent due diligence checks as has made no application for funding since these checks were introduced. However any previous funding would have been delivered in line with Scottish Government policy to support the diversification of its activities.”
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “We do not provide funding for the manufacture of munitions – either directly or via Scottish Enterprise – and Chemring’s site at Stevenston in North Ayrshire does not produce tear gas.
“We will respond to the letter in due course but, in Chemring’s case, grant funding has helped modernise the company’s site and support projects such as management training and graduate support.
“The site produces materials that have a civilian and defensive military use, for example, its propellant products are used in military ejector seats and it also produces components that are used in pressurised fire safety suppression systems.
“Support provided to firms is focused on helping to diversify and develop non-military applications for their technology and ensure Scotland continues to benefit from the thousands of jobs in the defence, aerospace and shipbuilding sectors.
“We are very clear that, whilst it is a reserved matter, we expect the UK government to properly police the export of arms and investigate whenever concerns are raised. However, it remains important to have appropriate defence and security capabilities maintained in Scotland.”