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After lapses at renowned security fair, Amnesty says France provides a 'marketplace for torturers'

Anne-Emmanuelle Thion | Milipol director Muriel Kafantaris said that strict screening measures will be adopted for the 2019 trade fair.

Despite strengthened EU regulations against the promotion and trade of instruments of torture, a Chinese company managed to bring such equipment into France this week and display it at a prominent trade fair.


Europe has been steadily tightening the laws concerning torture equipment, the import and export of which was banned in 2006. In 2016 the EU went a step further, prohibiting the promotion and display of such equipment at trade fairs. In spite of that, researchers for Amnesty International found both promotional material for torture devices and several such devices themselves at Milipol Paris, a security trade fair, raising concerns about how they got past customs officials and the event’s enforcement team.

“That’s one of the questions that we want answered, not only by the event organisers but also by customs: How did those weapons enter EU territory?” said Ara Marcen Naval, an advisor on arms control at Amnesty International. “That is currently illegal under EU regulation.”

A customs official not directly involved with the case told France 24 that officers are unable to check every suitcase or parcel that comes into the country and that, unfortunately, contraband sometimes slips through.

Milipol has its own enforcement team that is charged with making sure exhibitors conform to the law, but when Amnesty researchers visited the event they found plenty of violations. The most egregious came from Beijing-based Origin Dynamic Technolog Co., which had electric-shock ankle cuffs, an electric-shock thigh sleeve and an electric-shock vest on display. A poster at the stall also promoted the sale of a spiked electric-shock riot fork. When organisers got wind of the infraction, they shut down the stand

Origin Dynamic wasn’t the only company breaking the law. Several other booths had promotional materials for banned devices, including spiked batons, spiked electric-shock riot forks and heavy leg irons, calling into question the efficacy of Milipol’s screening and enforcement processes.

“By failing to enforce the law, France is providing a marketplace for torturers,” Naval said. “Milipol is the first real test of the new EU rules on torture tools, so it is alarming to see those rules already being flouted, less than a year after they came into force.”

EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstroem described the discovery as "simply awful", saying via Twitter that "this appears to be a blatant violation of EU law and I fully expect French authorities to urgently investigate this".

Milipol director Muriel Kafantaris said that “draconian measures” will be adopted for the 2019 salon to avoid further violations.

China's connection

Milipol Paris bills itself as the world’s leading homeland security event and says that each year it draws more than 150 official delegations from nearly 100 countries. The fair is organised under the auspices of the French Ministry of the Interior and is conducted in partnership with the French National Police and Gendarmerie and the Civil Defence Service. This year’s fair was inaugurated by French Interior Minister Gérard Collomb.

All of the offending companies at the fair were Chinese. China has long been a major manufacturer of devices used for torture. A 2014 report issued by Amnesty International in partnership with the Omega Research Foundation found that more than 130 Chinese companies – most of which were state-owned – were producing and trading such devices, compared to only 28 a decade earlier.

The report said that researchers found evidence that what appeared to be Chinese-made electric shock batons were carried by police in Ghana, Senegal, Egypt and Madagascar.

It’s not only the increase in the number of companies manufacturing such equipment that worries activists but also advancements in the technology. Naval points to electric riot sticks, an old device that companies have upgraded to be able to administer shocks. “In our view there is only one use for it, and it is torture,” she said.

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