Demonstrators from activist groups Extinction Rebellion, Global Justice Rebellion and Women of Colour – Global Women’s Strike blocked access to an arms factory in the UK on Monday. They acted in opposition to Britain’s exports of tear gas and rubber bullets that have been used to “violently suppress” large-scale protests in Hong Kong and the US.
Around 10 protesters used umbrellas and erected a bamboo cone structure in front of a PWD Group factory in Derbyshire. They also displayed a banner that read “Protest Repression: Made in England.” Until last June, the PWD Group was part of British Chemring Group, which manufactured tear gas canisters and rubber bullets.
Extinction Rebellion said in a statement that PWD’s crowd control gear has been used to “violently suppress” pro-democracy demonstrations in Hong Kong, as well as at protests against police brutality and racism in the US.
“The UK has a licence to export CS Grenades to 49 countries and various forms of crowd control ammunition, to 65 countries, including to Hong Kong, Chile and the USA where they are likely to have been recently used to violently quell protests,” the group wrote.
The activist group’s spokesperson said protester’s use of umbrellas was echoing the year-long pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.
Demonstrators have also broken out in the US and around the world after George Floyd – an African American man – died in police custody in Minneapolis, Minnesota in May. A white officer – Derek Chauvin – knelt on the back of Floyd’s neck for almost nine minutes and is facing murder charges. Demonstrators chanted “black lives matter” in cities across the US while some demanded to disband the police force.
A parallel protest was staged outside the Department for International Trade in London on Monday, as demonstrators urged the department to stop licensing exports of tear gas and rubber bullets.
“We export tear gas and rubber bullets to violently suppress Black Lives Matter protests in the US and pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, yet in 30 years of police work I have never seen them deployed on London streets. We put profit above life and it is time for this to stop,” said Paul Stephens, a former Metropolitan Police detective sergeant and a member of the Extinction Rebellion.
Jacqueline Bond, another demonstrator outside the government agency, said: “Schools teach that justice and democracy are British values, yet people who fight for these values globally are being subject to bodily harm by products from British companies.”
Last June, London said it had suspended export licences for crowd control equipment to Hong Kong during the anti-extradition law protests.