This weekend saw serious unrest breaking out across Hong Kong. A student-driven movement drew tens of thousands on to the streets of Hong Kong Island and Kowloon, calling for a truly free election for the Chief Executive of the territory in 2017. The police used considerable amounts of tear gas on the peaceful protesters, in an attempt to disperse them. Sadly, it appears that some of the tear gas used in the attempt to crush the pro-democracy protests was licensed for export by the UK Government.
Images circulated by people on the ground in Hong Kong suggest that at least some of the gas used was provided by UK arms company Chemring, which has subsequently confirmed that it is a long term provider of tear gas to Hong Kong.
This isn’t the first time Chemring weapons have been associated with oppression against pro-democracy protesters. There is evidence that they were used in Egypt during the uprising. There is also evidence of plastic bullets made by Haley and Weller (owned by Chemring since 1992) being used in Kuwait.
Bearing in mind the UK’s colonial past, the symbolism couldn’t be much worse. When, after 99 years of British rule, Hong Kong was returned to China in 1997 it was agreed that ‘the previous capitalist system and way of life shall remain unchanged for 50 years’. In practice this means the people of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR) enjoy far greater civil liberties than those in Communist-run China, including, for example, unhindered internet access and freedom of speech. Further, the rule of law of prevails, and corruption is not nearly as widespread as in mainland China.
The Chinese Government had previously promised that universal suffrage would be used in the election of Hong Kong’s Chief Executive in 2017 and in the election of all legislators in 2020. But, in August, the Chinese Government decided that all candidates in the election for Chief Executive had to be approved by Beijing. In other words, Hong Kong’s citizens would no longer have a free choice to elect who they want.
UK tear gas exports to Hong Kong are nothing new. The UK has allowed six licences for tear gas to Hong Kong since 2010, the most recent one was awarded in January 2014. The total value of these licences was £180,000. Overall the UK has sold £8.5 million worth of arms to Hong Kong since 2010. This has also included anti-riot shields, rifles and small arms ammunition. A full list is available on the Campaign Against Arms Trade website.
It is difficult to see how the current unrest can end happily. The Chinese Government in Beijing is highly unlikely to back down, as doing so would mean Hong Kong remaining a democratic beacon within China, which might encourage a pro-democracy movement on the mainland. Furthermore, the Chinese Government showed by the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989 their ruthlessness in dealing with pro-democracy protests. Already the pressure from Beijing on the Hong Kong authorities to suppress the Occupy Central movement must be intense.
The people of Hong Kong are demanding a truly democratic future. The UK should not be a party to the repression of such hopes by licensing to the Hong Kong Government equipment, such as tear gas, which could be used in internal repression.
The UK Government’s own export licensing criteria is based on risk assessment. Plainly there are high risks, now and in the future, that equipment that could be used for internal repression might be used in Hong Kong to suppress protesters who merely demand the democratic rights that we in the UK take for granted.
Other countries that the UK has licensed the sale of tear gas to include United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Jordan and Pakistan, but the issue goes wider than that. The UK arms trade is worth billions and the government routinely supports and promotes arms exports to oppressive and authoritarian states around the world. Unfortunately this is only one of many examples that disprove the official line that the UK has a ‘rigorous’ arms control policy.
Parliament’s Committees on Arms Export Controls has recently been highly critical of the UK Government’s tendency to approve exports which might be used for internal repression to countries where the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has serious human rights concerns (one of these being China). The UK Government should announce a full investigation into whether UK weapons have been used in Hong Kong, and a ban on the export of all such equipment from the UK to the territory for the foreseeable future.
Photo by @jessiegiblet
Grassroots posters giving an alternative take on the general election
Hundreds of people surrounded the fences this weekend. Hera Lorandos spoke to women who have suffered inside.
Laying out the case for Labour's leadership of a Progressive Alliance, Jeremy Gilbert argues that far from posing a threat to the Left, the Progressive Alliance offers a golden opportunity to end Tory rule and build a 21st century government committed to social justice
The Greens have stood down in Brighton Kemptown to clear the way for Labour, and the Lib Dems won’t stand in Brighton’s other seat, Green-held Pavilion. Davy Jones, who would have been the Green candidate in Kemptown, says this shows the way forward
The snap general election represents a unique opportunity to defeat this terrible government. We believe that visual artists have a crucial role to play!
Drax is the UK's biggest source of CO2 emissions – and we're paying for it, writes Almuth Ernsting
For the past 3 years, Barby Asante and members of London-based artists' collective, sorryyoufeeluncomfortable, have been responding directly to the vision of James Baldwin. Ahead of the nationwide release of a new film about the American activist and author, they reflect on the enduring relevance of Baldwin in Britain today.
Housing campaigners' gains in Bristol are spurring on a national movement to build a renters' union, writes Stuart Melvin
A new Espionage Act threatens whistleblowers and journalists, writes Sarah Kavanagh
We need an anti-austerity alliance, not a vaguely progressive alliance, argues Michael Calderbank
Civic strike paralyses Colombia’s principle pacific port
An alliance of community organisations are fighting ’to live with dignity’ in the face of military repression. Patrick Kane and Seb Ordoñez report.
Greece’s heavy load
While the UK left is divided over how to respond to Brexit, the people of Greece continue to groan under the burden of EU-backed austerity. Jane Shallice reports
On the narcissism of small differences
In an interview with the TNI's Nick Buxton, social scientist and activist Susan George reflects on the French Presidential Elections.
Why Corbyn’s ‘unpopularity’ is exaggerated: Polls show he’s more popular than most other parties’ leaders – and on the up
Headlines about Jeremy Corbyn’s poor approval ratings in polls don’t tell the whole story, writes Alex Nunns
The media wants to demoralise Corbyn’s supporters – don’t let them succeed
Michael Calderbank looks at the results of yesterday's local elections
In light of Dunkirk: What have we learned from the (lack of) response in Calais?
Amy Corcoran and Sam Walton ask who helps refugees when it matters – and who stands on the sidelines
Osborne’s first day at work – activists to pulp Evening Standards for renewable energy
This isn’t just a stunt. A new worker’s cooperative is set to employ people on a real living wage in a recycling scheme that is heavily trolling George Osborne. Jenny Nelson writes
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 24 May
On May 24th, we’ll be holding the third of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.
Our activism will be intersectional, or it will be bullshit…
Reflecting on a year in the environmental and anti-racist movements, Plane Stupid activist, Ali Tamlit, calls for a renewed focus on the dangers of power and privilege and the means to overcome them.
West Yorkshire calls for devolution of politics
When communities feel that power is exercised by a remote elite, anger and alienation will grow. But genuine regional democracy offers a positive alternative, argue the Same Skies Collective
How to resist the exploitation of digital gig workers
For the first time in history, we have a mass migration of labour without an actual migration of workers. Mark Graham and Alex Wood explore the consequences
The Digital Liberties cross-party campaign
Access to the internet should be considered as vital as access to power and water writes Sophia Drakopoulou
#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part III: a discussion of power and privilege
In the final article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr gives a few pointers on how to be a good ally
Event: Take Back Control Croydon
Ken Loach, Dawn Foster & Soweto Kinch to speak in Croydon at the first event of a UK-wide series organised by The World Transformed and local activists
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 19 April
On April 19th, we’ll be holding the second of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.
Changing our attitude to Climate Change
Paul Allen of the Centre for Alternative Technology spells out what we need to do to break through the inaction over climate change
Introducing Trump’s Inner Circle
Donald Trump’s key allies are as alarming as the man himself
#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part II: a discussion of power and privilege
In the second article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the silencing of black women and the flaws in safe spaces
Joint statement on George Osborne’s appointment to the Evening Standard
'We have come together to denounce this brazen conflict of interest and to champion the growing need for independent, truthful and representative media'
Paul O’Connell and Michael Calderbank consider the conditions that led to the Brexit vote, and how the left in Britain should respond
On the right side of history: an interview with Mijente
Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Reyna Wences, co-founder of Mijente, a radical Latinx and Chincanx organising network
Disrupting the City of London Corporation elections
The City of London Corporation is one of the most secretive and least understood institutions in the world, writes Luke Walter
#AndABlackWomanAtThat: a discussion of power and privilege
In the first article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the oppression of her early life and how we must fight it, even in our own movement
Corbyn understands the needs of our communities
Ian Hodson reflects on the Copeland by-election and explains why Corbyn has the full support of The Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 15 March
On 15 March, we’ll be holding the first of Red Pepper’s Race Section open editorial meetings.
Social Workers Without Borders
Jenny Nelson speaks to Lauren Wroe about a group combining activism and social work with refugees
Growing up married
Laura Nicholson interviews Dr Eylem Atakav about her new film, Growing Up Married, which tells the stories of Turkey’s child brides
The Migrant Connections Festival: solidarity needs meaningful relationships
On March 4 & 5 Bethnal Green will host a migrant-led festival fostering community and solidarity for people of all backgrounds, writes Sohail Jannesari
Reclaiming Holloway Homes
The government is closing old, inner-city jails. Rebecca Roberts looks at what happens next
Intensification of state violence in the Kurdish provinces of Turkey
Oppression increases in the run up to Turkey’s constitutional referendum, writes Mehmet Ugur from Academics for Peace