UK ‘complicit’ in suppression of pro-democracy demonstrations in Oman, say campaigners

By Matthew Norman

THE UK has been implicated in the suppression of Omani pro-democracy protesters after photos revealed British-made tear gas being employed by police, campaigners have said.

The Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT), a UK-based organisation working to end the international arms trade, has called for an investigation into the weapons that have been sold to Oman, as well as an end to the policies that have allowed the sales.

The company behind the canisters are yet to comment on the use of their equipment, while the British government – who will have had to issue an export license – said they consider all exports “against a strict risk assessment framework”.

From Saudi Arabia to Latin America, the UK’s sales of equipment to brutal police forces is well known – Oman is just the latest example.

A country that has been driven into bankruptcy and beggary by its unalterable, hereditary monarchy, the Gulf State is now seeing its largest protests in the last ten years. The uprising came as a result of mass unemployment, corruption and general economic hardship.

Despite the crushing power exercised over the Omani people, the UK government has supported the country’s ruler in a myriad of ways.

Declassified UK recently showed that “until at least last year Oman’s ruler was secretly advised by a British dominated privy council that held midnight meetings at his lavish palace, its members have included General Nick Carter, the current head of the British military, and Richard Moore, the chief of intelligence agency, MI6.”

Omani police suppressing the protests are UK-trained and supported, and the nation is one of the UK’s leading customers for arms, with over £1.6 billion worth of military equipment licensed to it since 2015, including tank parts, fighter jets and small arms.

Amongst these sales is tear gas, of which the UK has licensed over £16 million worth to Oman since 2015.

It is understood that the accurate value will be much higher because there have been multiple open licenses issued that allow for an unlimited transfer of tear gas canisters.

In the last few days, photo evidence has arisen that shows the Omani police forces are using tear gas manufactured by a UK company. The Omega Research Foundation clarified to Redaction Report that the tear gas canisters were made by the Derby-based PW Defence in September 2012, a company who were owned by Chemring Defence up until 2019.

A spokesperson for the Omega Research Foundation said: “As we understand it the numbers on the bottom right [of the canister] refer to the date of manufacture, and previous company information has stated that the N225 has a 3 year ‘shelf life’, therefore this grenade should not have been used after September 2015.”

Courtesy of Phil Miller, Declassified UK

“Chemical irritants should always be stored according to the manufacturer’s instructions and used prior to the date of expiration.

“To date, there has been very little research published on the effects of expired tear gas, and there is currently no evidence to suggest that tear gas which has expired is more toxic.

“Nevertheless, there is a risk that the propellant in expired tear cartridges may have degraded, making them unstable.

“This degradation may lead to premature ignition, incomplete ignition, or explosion, which can be dangerous for the user as well as the target. The degradation of the propellant may also lead to a reduction in accuracy, which may increase the likelihood of injuries.

“Expired equipment should not be in use. It should be taken out of circulation and destroyed according to environmental protocols for waste disposal.”

The manufacturer did not respond to a request for comment from Redaction Report.

Following the publication of these images, the CAAT has called for an investigation into the use of UK-made tear gas in Oman.

Andrew Smith of CAAT said: “When arms dealing governments like the UK sell weapons it makes them complicit in how they are used. For decades now the UK has armed and supported the Omani regime, selling billions of pounds worth of arms underpinned by an uncritical political support.

“In recent days, those weapons have been used, with a terrible effect. 

There must be a full investigation into what weapons have been used and an end to the policies that have allowed them in the first place.

“These sales are not just numbers, they have the potential to be used in repression and abuses for years to come. It’s long past time for Boris Johnson and his colleagues to put human rights ahead of arms company profits.”

The British government made no attempt to deny the sale of tear gas to the Omani regime.

A spokesperson said: “We consider all our export applications thoroughly against a strict risk assessment framework and keep all licences under careful and continual review as standard.

“This, of course, applies to our exports to Oman. The UK takes its export control responsibilities seriously and operates one of the most robust and transparent export control regimes in the world.

“We rigorously examine each export licence application on a case-by-case basis against the Consolidated EU and National Arms Export Licensing Criteria.”

The British state has a history of dealing deadly tear gas, starting from the 1960s, when they issued export licenses which permitted the sale of tear gas to over 60 countries.

The UK’s profit from these export sales between 1962 and 1964 was roughly £6m, and came from trade with Hong Kong, Indonesia, Kenya, Malaysia, Nigeria, Portugal, Rhodesia and Singapore.

In 2011, British-made tear gas cannisters were found during the pro-democracy protests in Egypt, having been used against protesters by the Egyptian security forces. At around the same time the UK government also licensed the sale of crowd control equipment to Bahrain and Libya, countries who were also experiencing peaceful protests.

In 2014, police in Hong Kong used UK-made tear gas against pro-democracy protesters, following which the UK government stated it would monitor future sales more closely. However, after only a year, the same equipment was again being exported to Hong Kong.

Minsters permitted two open licenses, approved in 2015 and 2016, which allow an unlimited amount of equipment to be sold for five years, meaning that the export of crowd control weapons can continue into this year.

Yet more UK-produced tear gas was found in Greece in 2020, used on refugees who were campaigning to leave Lesbos after a fire destroyed their camp.

Last year during the Black Lives Matter protests, Labour urged the government to ban all crowd control exports to the US, amid concerns that police were using them against protesters.

Featured Image: Pixabay

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