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Torture and our right to protest

The human right to protest is being squashed by tools of torture: equipment which can be produced here in the UK.

Communities across the world are facing torture when they stand up for their rights- sometimes with weapons which can be made by UK-based companies. We need a Torture-Free Trade now.

No matter the colour of our skin, we all want a society that’s free and fair. Our freedom to peacefully express discontent at any government’s action should be protected.

Can you be tortured for protesting?

In many parts of the world, when communities speak up they are faced with torture. During peaceful protests, police forces across the world are increasingly misusing equipment such as rubber and plastic bullets to violently repress protesters. This is torture, and it is causing horrific injuries and deaths.

“I gave my eyes so people would wake up.”

- Gustavo Gatica, a 22-year-old psychology student, was blinded in both eyes after being hit in the face by rubber-coated metal pellets fired by police during inequality protests in Chile’s capital Santiago on 8 November 2019.

Neither a pellet, bullet or baton should break a free and fair society. Across the world, hundreds of survivors have life-changing injuries from protesting: from weapons which can be produced in the UK. When we protect the right to protest here in the UK, we can also stand in solidarity with survivors of torture.

There are many cases of protesters being tortured for standing up for human rights. Hundreds of survivors have life-changing injuries from protesting for human rights. But what many don’t know is that some of the weapons used to repress them can be produced in the UK.









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Is torture equipment produced in the UK?

At least two UK companies, according to their own websites, can supply various crowd control weapons of the types that are widely misused around the world at a large scale to repress freedom of expression.  Current UK Government data makes it impossible to tell where these specific weapons may have been exported to.

  • The Lincolnshire-based company Centanex Ltd manufactures the CTX-BG CTX ball grenade
  • Another Lincolnshire-based company, Primetake Ltd, manufactures a wide range crowd control munition.

“The profiting from torture has gone on for too long. The relative ease by which the tools of torture can be traded across the globe to quash peaceful protest is a shocking inditement of decades of inaction.The UK, and the rest of the global community, can no longer ignore the fact that global trade in tools of torture needs to be brought under effective control: we need to act decisively.”

- Oliver Feeley-Sprague, Amnesty International UK Programme Director - Military Security & Police

What is Torture-Free Trade?

Torture-free trade is a treaty we are campaigning for at the United Nations level, to bring the trading of torture equipment under control. We are calling for the trade and use of specific items of torture equipment to be banned entirely. The ban should fall specially on weapons that no legitmate use other than to inflict torture, as well as other policing weapons that inherently indiscriminate and are overly-injurious. These weapons cannot be used legitimately or safely in line with existing international laws and standards. They must be banned.

For other categories of policing and security equipment, we are calling for these weapons to be stringently regulated so they can’t be exported in circumstances where there is a clear risk they will be misused by police and security forces for torture in other parts of the world, including against peaceful protests. They must be regulated tightly.

As well as championing international moves to establish new legally-binding rules to ban this equipment globally, the UK Government also needs to urgently strengthen our own export control system to prevent the trade in abusive policing and security equipment overseas.

What can we do about it?

Together, we can keep this fundamental freedom safe and demand governments act decisively to have Torture-Free Trade.

Sign up here to be the first to hear all about our new campaign, Protect the Protest, and ways you can get involved - including a free online course.


Protest must be protected and it must be safe. Without protest, human rights progress cannot happen.

 The Shoreditch Declaration for a Torture-Free Trade Treaty

In January 2023, we hosted 30 civil society organisations from across the world at the Human Rights Action Centre in Shoreditch for Civil Society Summit for the prevention of torture and other ill-treatment and ending police violence. This is what we declare:

We, a group of over 30 civil society organisations from all regions, are coming together to support the creation of a robust Torture-free Trade Treaty.

Through our work dedicated to the prevention of torture and other ill-treatment and ending police violence, we witness daily the devastating psychological and physical toll that such abuse has on people across the world.

In many cases, the use of law enforcement equipment plays a fundamental role in these acts of cruelty, repression and punishment. Internationally-traded law enforcement equipment is routinely used abusively against protesters, human rights defenders and discriminated-against groups, among others, during the policing of protests and in places of detention.

Some equipment, like body-worn electric shock devices, is cruel and degrading by design and must be banned outright; other equipment can be readily abused and its trade must be strictly regulated.

A global, legally-binding prohibition and human rights-focused trade control regime on law enforcement equipment must be established to help prevent torture and other ill-treatment and combat police abuse.

We support prohibitions on the manufacture and trade in inherently abusive equipment such as inhumane restraints and electric shock batons. We also support effective, human rights-based trade controls on standard law enforcement equipment – such as pepper spray, rubber bullets and handcuffs – which is often used to commit acts of torture or other ill-treatment.

We call on all states to fulfil their positive obligations to prevent and eradicate torture and other ill-treatment across the world by supporting the creation of a Torture-free Trade Treaty.

We will work together in different regions to raise awareness around this issue and build support for the strongest possible global treaty to put an end to the torture trade.


2022 Briefing