UK officials online for ‘impunity’ in aiding crimes abroad, critics say | Spying


Ministers and spies would enjoy immunity from charges of assisting crimes abroad under a new national security law to be debated by MPs next week, a charity has warned. human rights defender and a former Conservative minister.

The Home Office has been told the proposed powers are “far too loose” and would diminish the UK’s moral authority to condemn atrocities such as the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Concerns center on an amendment to the Serious Crimes Act, which was passed in 2007 and made it an offense to do anything in the UK to encourage or assist a crime abroad – such as assisting unlawful killing or send information to be used in a tortured interrogation.

Under a clause in the National Security Bill, which passes second reading in the House of Commons on Monday, it would be removed where “necessary for the proper performance of any duty” of MI5, MI6, the GCHQ or armed forces.

Reprieve, an international human rights charity, said it would effectively grant immunity to ministers or officials who provide information to foreign partners that leads to the torture or unlawful death of a person during a drone strike.

Concerns have also been raised that the ruling would restrict victims’ ability to seek civil damages in court.

Maya Foa, co-executive director of Reprieve, said it was an unthinkable power to grant ministers and officials what “would risk placing them above ordinary criminal law” and could even embolden leaders to “commit serious crimes in the belief that they can do so with effective impunity”. ”.

Foa said passing Section 23 of the National Security Bill would “destroy the UK’s moral legitimacy to condemn similar atrocities committed by autocratic states” after the murder of Khashoggi, a journalist who, according to US intelligence agencies, was killed on the orders of Saudi leader Mohammed bin Salman.

The campaign against the move was also backed by former cabinet minister and civil liberties campaigner David Davis.

Davis said Term 23 was “far too loose in the powers it gives to ministers” and was not intended to grant less controversial national security powers to spy agencies, such as allowing them to plant bugs in foreign embassies.

He added: ‘This bill is so vaguely drafted that it could let ministers off the hook if they authorized crimes like murder and torture from the safety of their offices in Whitehall.

“I urge my colleagues to compel him to actions appropriate to our purposes and to our civilized standards.”

The National Security Bill was announced in the Queen’s Speech last month, with the intention of supporting British spy agencies and ‘helping them protect the UK’. It will be debated when MPs return from recess next Monday.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “The Serious Crimes Act Amendment will only remove the risk of individuals being criminally prosecuted when they carry out lawful, authorized activities deemed necessary, in good faith and in following the appropriate procedure.

“Simply put, the government believes it is not right to expect responsibility for this action to lie with a British intelligence officer or member of the armed forces who is acting with wholly intentional legitimate.”


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