6 January 1996
An attack on free speech
Mohammed al Mas'ari, leader of the Saudi-Arabian dissident group, the Committee
for the Defence of Legitimate Rights, has been served with a deportation
order by the Home Office for criticising Britain's allies in the Saudi royal
family. Mr Mas'ari faces expulsion for no other reason than that he is exercising
his right to speak out against the Saudi dictatorship, writes Suke Wolton.
Defending the move, junior Home Office minister Ann Widdecombe said that
Mr Mas'ari's right to free speech had to be balanced against Britain's good
relations with the Saudi regime - though the balance seems to have fallen
firmly in favour of Britain's lucrative arms trade and against Mr Mas'ari's
rights. The Home Office insists that it is not obliged to grant Mas'ari
asylum because he entered Britain via Yemen, rather than directly from the
regime that is threatening him, Saudi Arabia.
This is not the first time that the British government has used the law
on asylum to silence political oppositionists. One, Mr V (use of his name
would endanger his position in this country), received a letter from the
Home Office which said it would give him 'leave to remain' in Britain 'on
condition that he did not speak to the press'. In another case, three men
were released from Pentonville Prison after their hunger strike to highlight
their fear of deportation. But once they spoke to Channel 4 about their
ordeal, they were rearrested and detained in Campsfield House, the immigrant
detention centre near Oxford. Now Mohammed al Mas'ari faces deportation
for faxing news bulletins to Saudi Arabia.
The Home Office says that Mas'ari's activities will cost people their jobs.
But the British government is to blame for making British jobs dependent
on trading arms with an unpopular dictatorship. Mohammed Al Mas'ari's rights
should not be sold out to the arms trade.
Some critics of the decision blame Saudi Arabia. However, the Saudi regime
is itself an artificial creation of British machinations in the region,
and has been dependent on Western support throughout its short history.
Mohammed Al Mas'ari's crime in the British government's eyes is that he
is attacking a loyal ally of the West. His right to speak out should be
defended by anyone who wants to see democracy and freedom flourish in Arabia
and Britain alike.
Suke Wolton is the coordinator of Students Against Campsfield,and can be
contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org
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