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LONDON ARMS FAIR: Amnesty launches spoof torture equipment ad campaign

Amnesty International has launched a spoof torture equipment advertising campaign ahead of a major international arms fair which starts from tomorrow in east London.

The campaign - which includes large newspaper adverts in the London Evening Standard and City AM, a 40-second mock TV commercial (see, and numerous “games maker”-style activists with “arms fair” placards, lanyards and leaflets in prime London locations (including King’s Cross and Bank stations) – is being billed as “the advertising campaign the government didn’t want you to see”.

The Defence and Security Equipment International (DSEi) event (, staged at the ExCel conference centre in Docklands, east London from Tuesday 15- Friday18 September, is one of the world’s biggest arms fairs. It brings together some 1,500 arms dealers every two years and this week’s event is advertised as “99% booked”. At past London arms fairs, campaigners have discovered a variety of illegal torture equipment advertised for sale – including electric shock stun guns and batons, leg-irons, and belly-, body- and gang-chains. There has also been a range of illegal cluster-munition weaponry advertised at the fair.

In total, Amnesty has identified nine companies that have violated UK law at past DSEi events between 2005 and 2013 (every fair has included at least one illegal incident) and given the large number of exhibitors other illegal activity may of course have gone undetected. It has fallen to Amnesty and other campaigners to police illegal activity at the fair, and although the arms companies are subsequently evicted, year after year, that only happens once campaigners alert the organisers.

In addition, despite it having been illegal to advertise or promote the sale of torture equipment in the UK since 2004, not a single company or exhibitor has ever been prosecuted for breaking the law at the DSEi.

Amnesty is calling on the government to ensure that lax enforcement of existing anti-torture laws ends, and that the law itself is tightened up. Amnesty’s UK Director Kate Allen has written to Sajid Javid, the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, calling on him to set up a joint-industry, NGO and government stakeholder group to establish how controls can be tightened up. Meanwhile, thousands of Amnesty activists are also contacting Mr Javid by email and letter (see

Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen said:

“This is the advertising campaign the government didn’t want you to see.

“In the past, torture equipment has been on offer right on our doorstep. Things like illegal leg irons and electric-shock batons have been shamelessly advertised and it’s blindingly obvious the law needs tightening up.

“We need strengthened laws - and crucially we need proper enforcement – to stop Britain being used as a showroom for torturers to advertise their disgusting wares.

“The guest list reads like a who’s who of dodgy regimes. London should be ashamed of playing matchmaker between these companies and countries like Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Azerbaijan.

“Sajid Javed needs to clean up this arms fair and stop the UK being used as a shop window for torture equipment.”

DSEi  and the UK  government
The DSEi arms fair is heavily supported by the UK government, with the Ministry of Defence and the department of Trade and Investment backers of the event. Major UK-based companies like BAE Systems are also important sponsors of the fair.

EU laws even worse than UK ones
It is illegal to buy, sell – or advertise for sale – a range of torture equipment goods in the UK, or to export them from Britain, but under present loopholes in European Union trade regulations it is perfectly lawful for non-UK companies to advertise these elsewhere in the EU and even make arrangements for their sale in most EU countries as long as the goods do not actually enter the EU. Amnesty is campaigning for these loopholes to be closed by the European Union. Since 2006, the EU has had the world’s only regional mechanism (Council Regulation 1236/2005) to prohibit or control the trade of equipment which could be used in torture or capital punishment. However, Amnesty has highlighted serious limitations in the regulation and its patchy implementation by EU countries.

Stop Torture campaign
In May 2014, Amnesty launched a global Stop Torture campaign. See


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