IUNW Calls on British PM to Defend Human Rights Advocates in ME During COVID19
The British Prime Minister has been urged to not forget the human rights of international campaigners in the Middle East during the COVID-19 pandemic and to “redouble” the Government’s efforts to protect them.
The call comes in a letter signed by a group of 34 parliamentarians, organised by the campaign group - International United Nations Watch (INTUNW). Signatories to the letter include former Leader of the Labour Party Lord Kinnock, the Green Party’s Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb, the DUP’s Jim Shannon MP, the Lib Dems Alistair Carmichael MP and Layla Moran MP, former Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Hilary Benn MP and Stephen Kinnick MP Co-Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Palestine.
They say: “Over the last few years, journalists, academics and activists have been silenced in many countries including by our allies in the UAE and Saudi Arabia. Human rights activists in both countries who tried to speak out against their government, or called for reforms for women’s and minority rights have been jailed with no access to fair trials, or judicial rights.
“Worryingly these activities have not stopped at their borders. Reuters recently revealed that human rights campaigner Iyad al-Baghdadi, who was forced to flee his own country, has been warned by Norwegian security services of a threat against him.
Meanwhile, in Europe and the US, it has been alleged that Saudia Arabia has employed new and dangerous tactics to target its critics such as online espionage. The most high-profile example of these alleged activities saw Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s CEO, having his phone hacked. Ben Hubbard, the New York Times Beirut bureau chief, was also targeted. While Omar Abdulaziz, a dissident and close associate of Jamal Khashoggi’s has even filed a lawsuit in Canada, claiming that his phone was hacked.”
It continues: “It is deeply concerning that journalists and human rights activists have been targeted in this way across the globe, including by countries the UK works closely with.
“We believe that this behaviour breaks international law and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Thus, it’s imperative that the UK Government condemns such reckless and rogue behaviour, urging any government engaged in these activities to stop and recommit to protecting the right of their citizens, activists and journalists.”
The campaign group is worried that under the pretext of restrictions to combat the Coronavirus pandemic, security forces in regimes with poor human rights records are further clamping down on opposition groups, activists and even foreign journalists.
They point to the continued ban on many Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services such as Skype and WhatsApp, which allows free calls, in much of the Middle East, restrictions on access to the world-wide-web and the expulsion of journalists from countries across the MENA region who challenged the official COVID-19 figures or the response.
Maya Garner, a spokesperson for INTUNW commented: “We have put together this letter which has been signed by 34 British Parliamentarians, because of our concerns that while the UK Government is understandably focusing on the Coronavirus crisis, some countries in the Middle East see are using this unprecedented situation to further restrict human rights and eradicate opposition. Foreign journalists have been expelled from a number of countries, dissidents targeted by state security services, while campaigners in the country have been largely silenced.
“To prevent this from happening it is vital that the Prime Minister and his Government ensure that these brave campaigners are not abandoned by the Foreign Office. The Foreign Secretary and his officials must make clear that this mendacious power-grab will not be tolerated, including amongst those countries we see as our friends in the region and we expect all countries to respect the human rights of their citizens.”
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