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Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Sale of Tear Gas to Bahrain Blocked Over Concerns Raised by Rights Groups

A video produced for Bahrain Watch’s “Stop the Shipment” campaign, documenting what rights groups have called the excessive use of tear gas by police officers in the kingdom.

Citing concerns raised by rights groups about the misuse of tear gas by the riot police in Bahrain, South Korea’s government has decided to block the export of millions of canisters of the gas to the kingdom, The Financial Times reported on Tuesday.

A spokesman for the South Korean agency that has to approve military exports told the newspaper that shipments to Bahrain from two defense contractors had been stopped because of “unstable politics in the country, people’s death due to tear gas and complaints from human rights groups.”

One of the companies, DaeKwang Chemical, said that “growing pressure from human rights groups” made it unlikely that its planned sale of three million shells to Bahrain’s Interior Ministry, which oversees the police force, would ever go through. The same company acknowledged last year that it had sold a million tear gas shells to the kingdom in 2011 and 2012.

Opposition activists from one rights group, Bahrain Watch, worked for almost three months to stop the shipment through an online information campaign â€" drawing attention to video that appeared to show the excessive and at times deadly use of the the gas against protesters, sharing leaked documents, and encouraging supporters to send nearly 400,000 emails to Korean defense officials.

The campaigners even tried to build support for the effort by creating a Buzzfeed post headlined “27 Insane Videos of Tear Gas in Bahrain” and were supported by Korean activists who staged street protests in Seoul outside the export office.

On Tuesday, the Bahraini activists who helped lead the campaign welcomed the news of its apparent success as “a victory for human rights.” They pledged to expand their efforts to stop the import of other forms of “less lethal” ammunition, like shotgun pellets, from other countries that arm Bahrain’s security forces, including the United States.

Despite dozens of deaths and the frequent use of gas, the authorities in Bahrain have repeatedly denied the use of excessive force to disperse protests.

In October, however, an extensive report from Physicians for Human Rights accused Bahrain of “Weaponizing Tear Gas.”

Bahrain’s police chief responded to the criticism this week by accusing protesters who clash with the police of “engaging in guerrilla warfare” and asking, rhetorically, “Isn’t this better than using live ammunition?”