UK export regulators gave the green light to sales of £2.3 million worth of ‘telecommunications interception equipment’ to Turkey in March 2017, long after its Islamist government were proven to be targeting political dissidents, human rights activists and feminist groups often without charge.
Surveillance Group were granted all five separate licences, a Worcester-based company who specialise in open-source data collection, particularly via social media, as well as facial recognition and other detection technologies.
They even advertise courses in ‘Covert Camera Construction & Concealment’ for £1,100 if you fancy actualising your Jason Bourne fetish over the Easter break.
Campaign Against the Arms Treaty log and visualise all arms export licences published by the UK government. You can find the Surveillance Group licences here.
Criticism of the Turkish government has completely vanished from print media and television, and now the intelligence apparatus are increasingly focused on using methods of online sleuthing and censorship – such as the services and technology offered by Surveillance Group – to track down and destroy the last remnants of anti-Erdogan activism in the deepest corners of the internet.
Roughly 50,000 Turks have been held in ‘pre-trial detention’ since 2016 – a clear violation of Article 9 of the Declaration of Human Rights in reference to arbitrary detention – and 100 journalists remain behind bars without charge or on trumped up charges invented in the wake of the 2016 attempted coup.
The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights declared last year that the Turkish government ‘seems to have criminalized the legitimate exercise of the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association, and freedom of opinion and expression, using emergency decrees that fail to meet international human rights standards.’
As a member of the European Union (for now) the UK are party to the European Council Common Position of the 8th of December 2008, which defines common rules governing control of exports of military technology and equipment. Criterion 2 states that:
Having assessed the recipient country’s attitude towards relevant principles established by international human rights instruments, Member States shall deny an export licence if there is a clear risk that the military technology or equipment to be exported might be used for internal repression.
Assessments of Turkey’s recent slide into authoritarianism, from independent human rights organisations to UK’s own Parliamentary Committees, have consistently outlined Turkish intelligence authorities’ successful attempts to stifle dissent. The Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee claimed in the same month the export licences were granted that ‘there is a fundamental intolerance of alternative narratives in Turkey, with the government broadly suppressing, discrediting or punishing those who contradict its authorised accounts of sensitive events.’
There is no doubt that Turkey are using ‘telecommunications interception equipment’ such as the kind supplied by Surveillance Group for ‘internal repression’ as defined in the wording of the EU Common Position. The UK Export Control Joint Unit (ECJU) have explaining to do in regards to how they implement the laws that govern them, because in this case it appears as though they just ticked a box without thinking.
Because of a minuscule UK bureaucracy failing to impose the law, Turkish feminists, dissidents and satirical newspaper columnists have yet another reason to look over their shoulder and lose sleep at night, agonising over what would happen to their children if they were whisked away by a thought police relying on whatever Orwellian gadgets we have supplied them. We must do better.
We will be chasing up a FOI request with the ECJU (formerly the ECO) regarding the five licences. We’ll keep you informed of any developments.
Amity Underground | Human Rights in Turkey