It has been discovered that British spyware used to crack down on Honduran protesters against the extreme right-wing Honduran regime writes Chris Williamson.
The British government is under fire for selling spyware to the Honduran government of President Hernandez that is being used to savagely repress anti-government protests.
Supporters of the Honduran Alliance Against Dictatorship have been protesting for months on the streets against alleged fraud in the presidential elections, which took place last November.
The country's electoral tribunal, which is allied with the president, has been accused of manipulating the vote to reverse a mid-count lead for opposition challenger Salvador Nasralla and ensure a narrow victory for Hernandez.
The daily street demonstrations have been met with a mobilisation of thousands of police, SWAT teams, soldiers and military police. At least 40 people have been killed and more than 2,000 detained.
Despite multiple allegations of fraud, US President Trump ignored the findings of independent election observers and recognised Hernandez, a conservative US ally, as the winner. Calls for a new election by the Organisation of American States (OAS), members of the US Congress and the Honduran Alliance Against Dictatorship have been brushed aside.
Hernandez’s National Party originally came to power after a military coup deposed the progressive democratic government of President Manuel Zelaya.
The coup was widely condemned by governments across Latin America, the EU, the OAS and other regional blocs.
By contrast, in the US President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton refused to label the political crisis a military coup and the US has maintained friendly relations with the regime ever since.
Since then, Hernandez’s National Party government has brutally cracked down on legitimate protest, using the police, the military. It has even been alleged that death squads have been deployed. His government has also been accused of links with organised crime, including drug trafficking gangs, and in the years since the coup there have been targeted assassinations of anti-coup leaders.
Alongside this repressive and anti-democratic agenda, the Honduran right-wing regime has implemented harsh neoliberal ‘reforms,’ thereby reversing programmes to reduce poverty and inequality initiated by the Zelaya-led government prior to the coup.
Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry has written to the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson seeking clarification on whether the correct arms exports procedures were followed for the software sales.
She has also queried whether the government departments involved were told what the Honduran government would use the equipment for and had checked to verify this.
Sales where there is a “clear risk that goods may be used for internal repression”, according to a Department for International Trade (DIT) spokesperson, are illegal under the 2008 Export Control Act.
Arms Export Control committee member Lloyd Russell-Moyle MP says “British law is unambiguous.” He has stated that: “The government sold Honduras monitoring and decrypting technology expressly designed to eavesdrop on its citizens, months before the state rounded up thousands of people in a well-orchestrated surveillance operation.”
The Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) has also criticised the government for these sales. Its spokesperson, Andrew Smith, argued that “it is totally irresponsible to sell surveillance equipment to authoritarian regimes like the one in Honduras.” He has called for the licences to be revoked.
Spyware sales by UK firms, worth at least £60m since 2008, are growing. Since 2015, over a dozen firms have been granted export licences to sell surveillance technology, including ‘ISMI-catchers’ which can monitor large numbers of mobile phones over large areas.
The spyware sold to the Honduran government is worth at least £300k. It can monitor and intercept a broad range of telecommunications, including phone calls, emails and online messaging apps.
Further sales may take place, since the British government approved two open export licences between December 2016 and September 2017, according to the latest available DIT information.
There is no requirement for the DIT to publish details of what, if anything, is sold via these licences, but they allow continuing exports of a wide range of what is termed “telecommunications interception equipment.”
The Honduran Alliance Against Dictatorship believes the Honduran government and its security forces have used the spyware to illegally intercept its emails and mobile phone data.
This includes private WhatsApp messages sent by Manuel Zelaya – the Liberal party president ousted in the 2009 coup – that were subsequently leaked and published online, and more recent examples from the election campaign.
Speaking for the opposition alliance, Rodolfo Pastor said: “Before, during and after the 2017 presidential campaign, leaders of Alliance and their teams were subject to state espionage. The information published was often manipulated to create confusion, distrust or division within the opposition.”
Protests against the election result are continuing in Honduras. The opposition is demanding an investigation into the deaths of those killed during the protests, using mediators appointed by mutual agreement and with decisions taken being binding on all parties.
The opposition is also calling for electoral reforms and sanctions for non-compliance by any party or individual in case fraud is proven to have taken place in the November general election.
Every day on the streets and in Honduran society, a wide range of movements including women’s groups, students, environmental campaigners, trade unions and many more are continuing to resist the reactionary government.
It is time for us to speak up in solidarity with those protesting and resisting in Honduras. We need to raise our voices to call on the UK and US governments to stop propping up this illegitimate regime.
- Chris Williamson MP is the President of Labour Friends of Progressive Latin America. You can follow Labour Friends on Facebook here and Twitter here.
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