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BRITISH ministers approved the sale of more than £2.5 million worth of spy equipment to Saudi Arabia in the past year alone, an investigation has revealed.
Despite concerns over the country’s human rights abuses, Politics Home found that the Department of International Trade granted five export licenses for telecommunications interception equipment between September 2017 and September 2018.
Approval of the applications to export controlled goods to Saudi Arabia took an average of 15 days, figures released by the department through Freedom of Information requests show.
The technology included controversial IMSI-catchers, which can listen in on phone calls, access private information stored on mobile phones and conduct surveillance of individuals attending events such as demonstrations.
Andrew Smith of Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) told the Star: “The Saudi regime has a long and brutal record of cracking down on activists and punishing dissent.
“By selling it the means to spy on pro-democracy campaigners the UK government has made itself complicit in this oppression.”
Between 2015 and 2017, the government provided more than £70 million worth of spyware equipment to authorities with “appalling human rights records,” CAAT figures show.
Brighton Kemptown Labour MP Lloyd Russell-Moyle – who is a member of the Commons committee on arms export controls – said the sales were evidence the government was “running roughshod” over British arms export laws.
He stated that it is illegal to licence goods if there is “a clear risk they could be used for repression.”
“Britain’s export of mobile phone interception kit to repressive regimes across the world is a very worrying phenomenon because they are effective tools to hunt dissidents and disrupt public protest,” he added.
“It is incredible the government is licensing this stuff to Saudi Arabia, which is ruled by a man who recently ordered the murder and dismemberment of a dissident.”
A Department for International Trade spokesperson said the government takes its export responsibilities “very seriously” and all applications are “considered on a case-by-case basis.”
They added: “Risks around human rights abuses are a key part of our licensing assessment and the government will not license the export of items where to do so would be inconsistent with any provision of the Consolidated EU and National Arms Export Licensing Criteria.”
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