By Lord Alton of Liverpool - 28th November 2011
Lord Alton of Liverpool argues that more should be done to prevent the sale of arms and technologies used in the torture of journalists and human rights activists in countries such as Iran.
Iran is responsible for systematic and egregious abuse of human rights. Thousands of political prisoners have been executed – including women and children. In the first half of this year an average of two people were executed each day.
Torture is routinely used in Iran. Demonstrators demanding reform have been rounded up and subjected to grotesque violations of their human dignity. Whipping, stoning, suspension from high ceilings or walls, submersion under water, mock executions and many other degrading treatments have all been reported.
Saeid Pourheydar is a young journalist who dared to speak out against the regime.
Following his arrest last year he was held in Iran's notorious Evin Prison. During his violent interrogation, prison officers knocked out his four front teeth, subjected him to a mock execution. It rapidly became clear that he was not merely fighting the regime but fighting British commercial interests too.
Pourheydar's interrogators confronted him with his "entire phone history". The regime had intercepted text messages and social networking which had enabled demonstrators to organise themselves and to let the rest of the world know what was happening. He says Britain has "blood on its hands".
Pourheydar has evidence that British software was used to intercept his messages along with his movements and details of who he had met: "You don't even have to be on the phone, they can simply track you down just through your mobile phone when it is lying on a coffee table." While in prison he says that around half of the political prisoners recounted similar experiences and that police had hunted them down using their cell phones. Mansoureh Shojaee, a women's rights activist, was also held at Evin prison where she says "My mobile phone was my enemy, my laptop was my enemy, my landline was my enemy."
There is evidence to suggest that the terrifying ability of a repressive State to monitor a hundred thousand targets has in part been achieved with the surveillance technology sold to the Iranians by a British company, Creativity Software. It enables the regime to track a target's movement every 15 seconds.
Britain has sold other surveillance technology throughout the region, to countries like Syria and Yemen.
The Department for Business – which continues to block my Private Members' Bill to combat the re-export of arms, and which passed all its stages in the Lords with all-party support – says "the government actively discourages all trade with Iran", and that "it doesn't appear that the exporter has broken the law". So what did they do to deter these sales? And since when has it been lawful to sell equipment or technology which can lead to the torture of journalists and human rights activists?
The sale of this technology is as lethal and dangerous as any weapon. From their virtual watchtowers Assad, Ahmajinedad and the rest, seek to repress and control their populations by their iron grip. And while we sell them surveillance technology we aid and abet these odious regimes, assisting them to stay in power.
Full details may be viewed at:
David Alton is a former Liberal and Liberal Democrat member of parliament. He was raised to the peerage in 1997 and sits as a crossbencher.