Tuesday, January 22, 2013
A ST Albans man who champions human rights has voiced his concern after a Freedom of Information (FoI) request showed a local firm successfully applied for a licence to export military equipment to Bahrain.
In the wake of uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt and elsewhere in the Arab world there have been violent clashes between Bahrain security forces and opposition protesters since protests began in February 2011.
John Warren, who is involved with Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT), said that a FoI request was sent to the Europe, Trade and International Directorate in London asking for the names of companies which had applied for licences to export military equipment to Bahrain during 2009 and 2010.
In response, the directorate gave the names of 16 companies which asked for permission to export equipment, categorised as ML1, ML2 and ML3, to Bahrain.
Those categories cover equipment ranging broadly from rifles, machine guns, military flame throwers and weapon sight mounts to ammunition.
Among the list was Hall & Watts Defence Optics Limited.
According to its website, the Hall & Watts Defence Group of Companies, with headquarters at Acrewood Way in St Albans, consists of a number of companies located around the globe including Dubai, Australia, New Zealand and the United States, and it sells products such as artillery sight components.
But John said the FoI response did not say whether companies such as Hall & Watts had actually sold military equipment to Bahrain.
A list detailing what type of military equipment was to be exported showed that out of 33 end-users, the government in Bahrain was the intended recipient for 18 of those licences in 2009/10.
It does not match companies to individual licences, many of which have since been revoked or expired.
But it does show that licences were sought to supply the government with weapon night sights, ammunition, tear gas, components for sub-machine guns, wall and door breaching projectiles, anti-armour ammunition and components for sniper rifles.
CAAT has recently submitted a further FoI request to try to match the companies to particular licences but a spokeswoman for the group said the government had refused to release that information.
John said that he was “greatly concerned” about the possible sale of components or equipment to Bahrain from a St Albans firm before the recent uprising.
He added that he had contacted Hall & Watts to ascertain whether it had supplied such equipment to the Bahrain government, but they had not replied.
John went on: “I realise that as many of the export licences were revoked after the uprisings in the Middle East, that if Hall & Watts had been arming the government there is a strong possibility that they are no longer arming this repressive regime.
“My concern is that any company would be granted a licence to sell weapons and components to a government with such an atrocious human rights record in the first place.”
He has written to St Albans MP Anne Main about his fears.
At the time of going to press Hall & Watts said a response to Herts Advertiser queries was “under consideration”.