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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 suke.wolton@sant.ox.ac.uk
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