Tear gas and stun grenades made in the UK were used against pro-democracy protestors recently in Greece, according to human rights groups.
The British products were apparently fired at crowds in Athens who were protesting against a controversial new law introduced by the Greek government which restricts the right to demonstrate.
Campaign Against Arms Trade and Amnesty International say the use of tear gas is an “indiscriminate weapon” which should have no place in policing. Both groups have called for an investigation and for the UK government to stop exporting the product to Greece. In reply, the UK government said it takes its export responsibilities “seriously”.
Photos of tear gas canisters and stun grenades were taken by Greek activists who say they were fired at protesters in central Athens on the 9th July 2020, near Syntagma Square.
Some of the cannisters were found close to the Hotel Grande Bretagne while others were near Panepistimiou metro station, The Ferret was told.
The photos were identified by the Greek activists as UK products. They were then sent to Omega Research Foundation, an independent organisation in the UK that monitors the trade of military, security and police technologies, to hold governments to account for their exports.
Tear gas is indiscriminate and dangerous, and should have no place in policing. When a government is restricting democracy and cracking down on dissent then that should concern us all. Andrew Smith, Campaign Against Arms Trade
PW Defence bought its tear gas making arm in June 2019 from a firm called Chemring Group, which received taxpayers’ money through grants from Scottish Enterprise. Chemring Defence manufactured CS gas and smoke grenades.
CS gas made in Brazil was also used by Greek police.
Around 10,000 people gathered in Athens on 9th July to protest against plans by the Greek government to curb public protests.
Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis’s year-old conservative government enacted a new law to stop protests from disrupting traffic and commercial activity, which it claims cause frequent disruptions to the public and affect commerce.
The demonstrators were largely peaceful and rallied outside parliament holding banners reading “hands off demonstrations”. But a small group of protesters reportedly peeled off from the main group and threw petrol bombs at police, who responded with teargas and stun grenades. Video footage from the protest shows demonstrators running from clouds of smoke.
The new legislation was approved by 187 lawmakers in the 300-seat parliament.
Human rights groups such as Amnesty International have been concerned over UK exports of tear gas to authoritarian regimes. Since 2010 the UK has sanctioned tear gas sales to over 50 countries. Licences to Greece were approved in 2010 and 2018.
Last month the UK imposed an arms embargo on Hong Kong that bans the export of equipment such as tear gas that could be used for “internal repression”.
Andrew Smith of Campaign Against Arms Trade said there must be a full investigation to ascertain whether UK-made equipment was used against protesters.
“Tear gas is indiscriminate and dangerous, and should have no place in policing. When a government is restricting democracy and cracking down on dissent then that should concern us all,” Smith added.
“UK-made tear gas has been used in Hong Kong and sold to aggressive and authoritarian police forces across the US and beyond. By the time it has left UK shores it is already too late. It can only be used for violence and repression. The tear gas sales taking place today could be used against pro-democracy campaigners for years to come.”
Greece has got a shameful track record on the routine misuse of tear gas, so there’s no way the UK should be supplying it in the current circumstances. Oliver Feeley-Sprague, Amnesty International
Oliver Feeley-Sprague, Amnesty’s military, security and police programme director, said the UK government “must act quickly” to prevent the possibility of further supplies by “cancelling all existing licenses and refusing any new requests” to export tear gas to Greece.
He added: “Tear gas is a violent, dangerous and grossly indiscriminate weapon and there’s a dark irony in the fact that this protest was actually about legislation restricting the right to demonstrate. It’s distressing to see tear gas fired at peaceful protestors, especially in an EU country so close to home.
“Greece has got a shameful track record on the routine misuse of tear gas, so there’s no way the UK should be supplying it in the current circumstances.”
A UK government spokesperson said: “The government takes its export responsibilities seriously and assesses all export licences in accordance with strict licensing criteria. We will not issue any export licences where to do so would be inconsistent with these criteria.”
PW Defence, which is based in Derbyshire, did not reply to our request for a comment. The firm’s website says it is a “reliable supplier to UK MoD, our NATO allies and friendly nations and customers worldwide”.
A statement adds: “PW Defence Ltd takes safety seriously and conducts its business activities such that is meets its moral and legal responsibilities to manage health, safety and environmental protection effectively.”
Centanex, based in Lincoln, did not respond to our request for a comment. A statement on the company’s website says: “All of our products are designed, manufactured and supplied from within the United Kingdom, utilising effective supplier management protocols to ensure continuity and reliability of supply.”
Chemring Energetics, based in Stevenston, is part of Chemring Group, a global arms company which sold tear gas to Egypt and Hong Kong, before selling that arm of its business to PW Defence.
The Ferret reported last year that the total amount paid out by Scottish Enterprise to Chemring in grants from 2007 to 2018 was £196,355.
Photo thanks to Perseus999.