Rights activists have launched a campaign urging South Korea to cancel an imminent shipment of over 1.6 million tear gas canisters allegedly ordered by Bahraini authorities battling a two-and-a-half-year-long rebellion.
An unverified document dated June 16, 2013 obtained this week by the monitoring group Bahrain Watch shows that Bahrain’s Ministry of Interior has requested an order of 1.6 million tear gas shells, 145,000 stun and flash grenades, and 90,000 tear gas grenades.
The massive figure startled observers who pointed out that the quantity was larger than the entire 1.2 million population of Bahrain, half of which is comprised of foreigners and migrant workers not involved in the largely-peaceful, anti-government movement.
“I think if you look at the scale and frequency of the use of tear gas in Bahrain, it’s unprecedented anywhere in the world,” Alaa Shehabi, a founding member of Bahrain Watch which is behind the Stop the Shipment campaign, told Al-Akhbar.
“They (police) are using hundreds of rounds on a nightly basis, … so they need this amount to sustain the constant state of repression.”
Shehabi added that her group has received information that the order is expected to be delivered before the end of this month.
“We’ve had, in the last 24 hours since we launched the campaign, 11,000 e-mails sent to Korean agencies involved in shipment,” Shehabi said.
Heeding activists’ calls, the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions have condemned the tear gas deal and urged authorities to prevent the shipment, citing humanitarian concerns.
The procurement tender does not specify the supplier of the weapons, but activists say that the bulk of the tear gas that reaches the tiny Gulf island is manufactured by two South Korean companies and a joint German-South African one.
Rheinmetall Denel Munition, the German-South African company, and South Korea’s Defense Acquisition Program Administration both declined to comment on the alleged deal.
Police have killed at least 89 people since the anti-government uprising erupted in February 2011, according to the Bahrain Center for Human Rights. Of those victims, 39 died from tear-gas related attacks including suffocation and direct shots to the head, records from Physicians for Human Rights show.
Authorities have so far been unable to quell the nearly daily demonstrations that persist across Bahraini villages against the widely-detested, US-backed monarchy. Dozens of human rights activists, doctors and political opponents have been jailed since the start of the uprising.
Over the past month alone, Bahrain sentenced 104 protest leaders to prison terms of up to 15 years on “terrorism” related charges.