South Korea Is Arming Authoritarians with Tear Gas
Image Credit: Flickr/ bahrainfreedom11

South Korea Is Arming Authoritarians with Tear Gas


One South Korean company has exported over 3 million tear gas shells since 2011, a South Korean legislator recently revealed.

A tear gas shell maker based in Gimhae, South Gyeongsang Province exported about 3.16 million tear gas shells to 24 countries worldwide between 2011 and September of this year, according to a new report by Kim Jae-yeon, a lawmaker from South Korea’s Unified Progressive Party. The majority of this tear gas went to Bahrain.

Kim’s report is based on data provided by the Kyongnam Provincial Police Agency, which approved export license for all the sales (by law, exports of tear gas shells must be approved by the provincial police agency.)

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The report revealed that about 1.4 million tear gas shells have been exported to Bahrain since 2011, making Bahrain the biggest customer for the South Korean company. A pro-democracy movement has been active in Bahrain since 2011, and over the past three years 39 people have been killed in government crackdowns in which tear gas was used.

Turkey was the company’s second largest customer, having imported about 668,000 tear gas shells. Last year, when it was revealed that the tear gas the Turkish government used against protesters had been imported from South Korea, the tear gas shell maker claimed it hadn’t exported tear gas to Turkey since 2012. The report, however, pointed out the maker is still exporting shells to Turkey, and 25,050 of them have been exported to Turkey as of last month.

South Korea also exported over 270,000 tear gas shells this year to the government in Myanmar, and about 180,000 shells have been exported to Bangladesh, where there have been ongoing protests by labor workers seeking better working conditions.

“South Korea’s export of tear gas shells is concentrated in those countries with poor human rights conditions and troubled areas,” said Kim. “South Korea should stop exporting tear gas shells and it should strengthen regulations regarding the export of tear gas shells.”

Although Kim’s report didn’t mention the company that is exporting the tear gas by name, it did say it was located in Gimhae City. Last year, two human rights groups filed a joint complaint against Dae Kwang Chemical Corporation (DKC) with the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), alleging that DKC planned to sell the Bahraini government a “large shipment” of tear gas. DKC is based out of Gimhae City. According to its website, it manufactures a “wide range of anti-riot products,” including tear gas.

In the OECD complaint, the groups said “the shipment raises grave concerns about the complicity of Dae Kwang in human rights violations resulting from the Bahrain Government’s likely use of the tear gas.” Last year Amnesty International Korea also urged the South Korean government to stop exporting tear gas shells to Bahrain, calling it a “severe violation of human rights.”

At the request of Amnesty International Korea, South Korea’s Defense Acquisition Program Administration temporarily halted all exports of tear gas to Bahrain. This suspension has evidently been lifted.

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