On January 7, 2014, Bahrain Watch, an independent research and advocacy group co-founded by Citizen Lab Research Fellow Bill Marczak, announced that its #StopTheShipment campaign had succeeded in preventing the Bahraini government from acquiring a large shipment of tear gas from South Korea. On that day, the Financial Times reported that the South Korean Defence Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA), the country’s military trade watchdog, had denied requests from two companies to export tear gas to Bahrain, citing “unstable politics in the country [Bahrain], people’s death due to tear gas and complaints from human rights groups.” Bahrain Watch issued the following statement:
“This suspension of tear gas shipments to Bahrain is a victory for human rights and a successful outcome for the #StopTheShipment campaign, which began in October. The South Korean government is wise to heed the calls of Bahrainis to end the export of tear gas to their government that has been systematically and routinely misusing it as a weapon of oppression and collective punishment. We hope this step will be the beginning of the end to the untold suffering, the deaths, injuries and illnesses related to tear gas abuse. This is also a clear message to any other country considering supplying tear gas to the Bahraini government that profiting from repression is unacceptable.”
The #StopTheShipment Campaign is a collaboration between Bahrain Watch, the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT), Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB), and the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR). In October 2013, Bahrain Watch leaked a document from a source connected to Bahrain’s Ministry of Interior indicating that the Bahraini government had solicited bids for “1.6m tear gas projectiles, 90,000 tear gas grenades and 145,000 stun grenades,” in addition to “training of Ministry of Interior personnel… upon request.” At the time, Bahrain Watch suspected three companies as potential bidders: Germany/South Africa-based Rheinmetall Denel Munitions; and DaeKwang Chemical Company Ltd and Korea C.N.O. Tech Ltd, both based in South Korea. The #StopTheShipment campaign was founded shortly thereafter to encourage concerned participants to send complaints via e-mail and social media to the three suspected suppliers as well as “export licensing authorities” in Germany, South Africa, and South Korea. In late October, DAPA confirmed that it had received a request from an unspecified South Korean company to export tear gas to Bahrain.
The #StopTheShipment campaign gained support in Bahrain and other countries around the world, and spurred protests in London and Seoul. Concerned parties sent over 390,000 e-mails to the Korean government, while Bahrain Watch filed formal complaints with the OECD and five UN Special Rapporteurs. Following DAPA’s announcement on January 7, Kim Jong-bae, CEO of DaeKwang Chemical Company Ltd, confirmed that his company had planned to sell 3 million canisters of tear gas to the Bahraini government for USD 28 million. He blamed the collapse of the deal on growing pressure from human rights and environmental groups, as well as a Korean broker. Bahrain Watch has vowed to continue to exert pressure on suspected or potential tear gas suppliers.
Since February 2011, the Bahraini government has used some 2 million tear gas projectiles against demonstrators, reportedly causing 39 deaths in addition to numerous miscarriages and instances of sickle cell disease, blindness, and respiratory illness. The United States officially blocked the export of tear gas to Bahrain in May 2012 due to human rights concerns. Physicians for Human Rights, the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry have all raised concerns about or condemned the use of tear gas against Bahraini civilians.