Bahrain Mirror (exclusive): Ahmad Ali, the activist in Bahrain Watch Organization, emphasized that the organization was closely following the varying types and origins of the weaponry used by Bahrain security forces against protesters and civilians since 2011. In a conversation with “Bahrain Mirror”, Ali said, “We included a number of export countries shipping tear gas to Bahrain such as the United Kingdom, the United States, Brazil, France, Germany and South Korea.” He also added that the campaign launched by the organization “gives a one in a million chance to the Bahrainis to express their discontent regarding the use of the tear gas as a tool of suppression and curbing the freedom and self-determination.” Moreover, he shed the light that the campaign started after revealing a tender document for the Bahraini Government to purchase 1.6 million tear gas canisters, which led to local condemnation process, local pressure increase in South Korea to halt canister shipping, and the outburst of the news media.
Bahrain Mirror: How would you describe Bahrain Watch?
Bahrain Watch is an independent research and advocacy organisation that seeks to promote effective, transparent and accountable governance in Bahrain. The organisation was formed in 2012 by a group of researchers and activists with personal and academic ties to Bahrain. The initial aim of the group was to investigate and assess Bahrain government claims of reform and justice following the 2011 uprising by providing a web-platform that collates and documents publicly available evidence. Since then, Bahrain Watch's goals have broadened to include research and advocacy on all forms of governance in Bahrain, including political reform, economic development, and cyber security. This has led to the expansion of the group, including the expansion of interests with our most recent study concerning the exports of riot control equipment to Bahrain. Previous research has included a study of IP spying, the use of arms, the implementation of reform recommendations, and the prevention of international media and NGOs into the country.
Bahrain Mirror: How would you describe yourself?
I am a postgraduate at Cardiff University Law School, recently completing both my Law Degree and Masters in international human rights law and international humanitarian law (the law of war). My research concentrated specifically on external intervention and external interference by one state in the affairs of another - with broader research based on state sovereignty, self-determination, and international armed conflicts. I am also a researcher and writer at Bahrain Watch. My interests in Bahrain human rights stemmed from the 2011 uprising and the atrocious crackdown led by the government of the country. I have been following the revolution from the very beginning and have expanded my research to include the history of British interference in Bahrain and the 2011 intervention of Saudi forces and its effects on the self-determination on the people.
Bahrain Mirror: You have mentioned in your PolicyMic article with John Horne that the canister used to kill Sayed Hashem is manufactured by South Korean Firm Daekwang Industry, and sold by South Korean C.N.O Tech. Did this fact help in the uncovering of the tender document that you revealed?
We have been closely following the varying types and origins of the weaponry used by Bahrain security forces against protesters and civilians since 2011. This has included a number export countries shipping tear gas to Bahrain such as the United Kingdom, the United States, Brazil, France, Germany and South Korea. Other weaponry such as birdshot pellets, flashbang grenades and armoured vehicles have been imported from countries such as Cyprus, Italy and Turkey.
The reason we know the origins of such products, is because the manufacturer logos are clearly marked on them. However, in early 2011 we began noticing unmarked tear gas canisters appearing in Bahrain, used by security forces, and their use increased following the stopping of shipments of tear gas from the United States. Following careful research, we realised that these canisters are visually identical to those manufactured by South Korean firm Daekwang and exported by CNO Tech. Daekwang also lists Bahrain on its website as a purchaser of such products. The canister used to kill Sayed Hashem, and left behind dripping with his blood, was also visually identical to these products being imported from South Korea. This is certainly not the way that tear gas was made to be used, and we know that Bahrain has been using it improperly and excessively, confirmed by numerous of reports over the past year. The case of this young boy worked towards developing our interest in the manufacturers of tear gas being used in Bahrain, however it was not the only case that we worked on. The campaign currently targets the South African and South Korean tear gas suppliers whose weapons are used by Bahrain’s police, as well as the relevant export licensing authorities in both countries. Bahrain Watch has also identified German/South African company Rheinmetall Denel Munitions as the producers of the tear gas recently used in Bahrain. Rheinmetall Denel Munitions has been linked to the death of 14-year-old Ali Jawad, after he was struck by the canister on his head. Subsequently, this has lead to the reception of the tender document revealing the large shipment of tear gas the Bahrain Ministry of Interior is seeking to import into the country.
Bahrain Mirror: How did you receive the tender document, and can you obtain others?
I am unable to give you specific information about how Bahrain Watch came into contact with this document as it would put a lot of people at risk of reprisals. However, we are continuing our research into the current proposed shipment of tear gas and into any future imports.
Bahrain Mirror: What are the chances that the document might be fabricated?
The documented that we revealed about the shipment contains import details of the products that have been documented as used by Bahrain security forces since the start of the uprising. The amount it is planning to import this time is shocking and provides a first insight and detailed look into the extent to which tear gas is being improperly used. Anyone researching or merely observing Bahrain knows that it is being misused. Even the Bahrain Independent Commission of Enquiry confirmed this. The evidence that we have gathered indicates that the document is genuine.
Bahrain Mirror: Do you think that your campaign can affect the decision making of the Koreans?
Campaigns such as ‘Stop the Shipment’ have proven their successes in the past. We do not need to look far to realise how the power of individual voices can influence the decisions of both local and international governments. Similar pressure has also been put on a number of manufacturers, including Daekwang and South Korea from Turkish activists very recently as the product has also been misused in Turkey. The targeted campaign provides a rare opportunity for Bahrainis to show their discontent at how tear gas is being used as a tool of oppression, as a tool for the prevention of self-determination, as a tool of killing and targeting civilian men, women and children in their homes. The campaign provides a chance for activists to directly communicate with tear gas manufacturers and exporters that are supplying the Bahrain government to make them realise the consequences of exporting the product to Bahrain. It also provides a unique opportunity to notify citizens of those exporting countries as to how their home grown products are being used to kill freedoms elsewhere. The Stop the Shipment campaign has already done this in only a few days of its commencement. We have heard numerous responses from South Korean citizens who had no awareness of how tear gas has been used abroad, and were concerned to find out the truth of the matter. We have also seen the powerful South Korean Federation of Trade Unions send a letter to the Korean Government asking them to halt all tear gas exports to Bahrain. The campaign has furthermore led to local a outcry, and a rise in local pressure to stop the shipment, including a media outburst. We have also had a number of internationally recognised NGOs contact us to support the campaign.
This campaign depends on the collective voice of the peoples, and past experiences have shown that these voices are more often than not stronger than governmental decision making. There is no reason to doubt the strength of the Bahraini voice during this time, and it can definitely affect decision making in South Korea, South Africa and Germany.
Bahrain Mirror: How many signatories has Bahrain Watch received on its petition?
Bahrain Watch has set-up a contact form on stoptheshipment.org which allows individuals to send a direct email, which we have pre-written, to tear gas manufacturers and exporters, as well as the relevant regulatory agencies and government departments. We have also encouraged users to manually send emails, faxes, and make phone calls to those bodies using any other means. So far we have had almost 17,000 emails sent through our contact form. We have also been contacted by many international NGOs to provide support for the movement and developments should be continuous over the next few days.
Bahrain Mirror: Has there been an agreement on the shipment of this tear gas to Bahrain?
Our understanding is that no shipment has yet taken place, regarding this tender. However, because of the date of the tender (June 2013), we believe that an agreement has been signed, or the signing of an agreement is imminent.
Bahrain Mirror: Do you have other documents other than the one you have leaked?
I cannot comment on this issue at the moment.
Bahrain Mirror: Have you been in contact with human rights organisations and trade unions in regards to the proposed shipment?
Yes we have been working with numerous NGOs throughout this campaign. This has included Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and others such as the UK based Campaign Against the Arms Trade who have just helped us in organising a protest at the South Korean embassy in London. The UK-based MENA Solidarity Network has also been very supportive. We have also contacted the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions who have been in touch with Korean officials in order to prevent this shipment, and we have plans in contacting other international trade unions. We understand that trade unions were particularly effective this Summer in putting pressure on the South Korean authorities to halt further exports of tear gas to Turkey, so we are keen to engage them on this issue.