Nov 12, 2021

Online EP Webinar : Compromised Spaces Europe report detailing reprisals by Third country actors on Human Rights activists on European soil

On 9 November 2021 UNPO alongside our partners and 4 Members of the European Parliament organised a presentation on our Compromised Spaces report, detailing the repression of activists on European soil by countries such as Iran, China and Russia. The event was also about what the EU can do to better act and protect the ability for activists on its soil, and to ensure they express themselves freely without reprisals as part of the Area of Freedom, Security and Justice (AFJS).

Chaired by Ahwazi activist, contributor to the report and UNPO Secretariat member Shima Silavi, the opening remarks from Jordi Sole MEP and David Lega MEP. Sole, the President of the European Freedom Alliance party at the European Parliament, highlighted that the EU is attractive to human rights defenders precisely because of its reputation as a strong human rights actor and that there are violations of EU and international law that should be considered given some state actors and courts can be negligent with regards to their own commitment towards protecting activists.

David Lega MEP said that the EU should draw up a plan to tackle these reprisals on their own soil and that the first step should be to identify the scope and severity, hence the need for the testimonies of the event. Lega continued by saying how the EU needs to have a more effective and proactive foreign policy, reciprocal travel and visitation policies and a more proactive approach in general on the issue rather than reactive. An example of reciprocal action that Mr Lega proposes would be to restrict foreign agents traveling to certain areas if their country restricts Europeans from traveling to certain areas within their jurisdiction.

Shima Silavi then presented the findings of the report, showing the different methods adopted by authoritarian regimes operating in the EU to intimidate activists on European soil. Ms Silavi also looked at the responses available to the EU to counter such actions and how the EU’s current counter-espionage and prosecution of foreign agents legal framework was inadequate. Often it is the case that EU countries simply do not use the mechanisms the EU provides to them too.

The next part of the conference was dedicated to the testimonies of activists or relatives of activists who were victims of third country reprisals despite being legal residents of European countries. Hawra Nissi, daughter of the murdered Ahwazi Arab political activist Ahmad Mola Nissi, talked about how her father had fled to the Netherlands precisely due to its multicultural and safe environment, only to slowly realise that he was being watched by Iranian agents, leading to his tragic assassination in the Hague in 2017.

Dolkun Isa, the President of the World Uyghur Congress, explained how the Chinese government had used his family as a way to intimidate his work in Europe protecting the rights of Uyghurs in the current crisis. Mr Isa, a German citizen, also pointed out that the Peoples Republic of China regularly uses the Interpol red notice liberally to try to thwart his ability to travel.

The Crimean Tatar activist Ayla Bakkali described how “every time Crimean Tatars or Ukrainian Crimeans leave Crimea, their families worry if they will return home. It is like crossing a river full of crocodiles and it’s all a matter of chance.” This is due to the systematic arrest of Crimean Tatars if they try to return home to see family by the Russian authorities.

The last part of the conference was left to the academic Dr Fiona McConnell, who helped research the report on compromised spaces for activists in Europe. Dr McConnell emphasized other aspects where EU member-states and supranational institutions could improve, such as training programs for law enforcement officers for such cases. Dr McConnell also pointed out that the scope of reprisals ranges from cyberspace to blocking activists in international institutions to extraterritorial space, and as a transnational issue the reprisals thus needed a transnational, EU response.

Mr Lega MEP closed the conference by reminding the audience of how Jews such as his ancestors had fled Nazi occupied countries to be able to find safe haven in other places and how Europe could and should be a beacon for such people. By hosting this event, UNPO hopes to pressure the EU into not only adopting external sanctions on these actors but also working on coordinating in home affairs policy as part of their Area of freedom, justice and security policy. To read our full report with recommendations, click here.


Full video of the event below :