German Chancellor Angela Merkel
Chancellor Angela Merkel has defended arms sales to Saudi Arabia Reuters

The German government has been heavily criticised for allowing its sales of arms and military hardware to Middle Eastern Gulf states to more than double over the past year.

According to figures obtained by the Suddeutsche newspaper from the country's Economic Ministry, sales to states belonging to the Gulf Co-Operation Council rose to €1.42 billion (£1.22bn) in 2012, up from €570 million the year before.

In the past, critics of the government and opposition politicians have raised fears that German weapons might be used by authoritarian regimes to crush popular uprisings of the kind that have swept across the region.

Recently in Bahrain, a teenager was shot dead during protests to mark the second anniversary of mass demonstrations against the government.

Jan van Aken, defence spokesman for the opposition Left Party, said: "The worst human rights violations are apparently no longer a reason to deny the approval of exports.

"The Gulf states continue to build up arms and the German government has no inhibitions about arming them to the teeth."

The states that purchased the most German weapons and military hardware were Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait, Oman and the United Arab Emirates. The biggest customer was Saudi Arabia, which spent €1.24 billion on German weapons last year.

Chancellor Angela Merkel's government has claimed that most of the equipment exported to Saudi Arabia was for border security, and the sales help to bolster security in the region. Critics have pointed to Saudi Arabia's poor human rights record.

The sales are approved by a special committee of the German Bundestag parliament, the Federal Security Council, which meets in private and is attended by Merkel and eight other cabinet ministers.

It is not the first time the German government has been criticised for supplying the Saudis with military equipment; in 2011 there was controversy after it allowed the supply of tanks to Riyadah and late last year it again came under fire for giving the green light to the sale of hundreds of Boxer armoured patrol cars to the country.

Last year British Prime Minister David Cameron defended UK arms sales to Gulf states as "entirely legitimate" after visiting the region to promote UK defence manufacturers.

Documents obtained by the ProPublica in January showed that the US had continued to sell weapons to Bahrain in the wake of protests there.