MPs urge UK government to toughen ban on Hezbollah

Hezbollah had previously been allowed to operate its political wing in Britain which had led to supporters displaying the group’s flag at official demonstrations. (File/AFP)
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Updated 31 July 2020

MPs urge UK government to toughen ban on Hezbollah

  • Iran-backed Hezbollah, founded in 1985, was banned in the UK in March 2019
  • The group had previously been allowed to operate its political wing in Britain

LONDON: MPs have written a letter to the UK government urging it to expand the country’s ban on Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah, amid fears that current measures do not go far enough.
Iran-backed Hezbollah, founded in 1985, was banned in the UK in March 2019. The group had previously been allowed to operate its political wing in Britain.
That freedom had led to Hezbollah supporters marching through the streets of London and elsewhere on many occasions, chanting slogans and displaying the group’s flag at official demonstrations.
MPs from across the political spectrum wrote to the UK Minister of State for Security James Brokenshire to highlight an alarming lack of data in the public sphere about Hezbollah’s membership and ties, convictions for offenses related to the organization, and to express concern over its influence in the country.
The UK government has so far refused to say how many people have been charged or convicted of offenses regarding support for Hezbollah since the 2019 ban.
“The display of flags and other symbols of illegal organizations in public spaces by fellow British citizens, such as on political marches or on social media, is evident and offensive to ordinary people,” the letter said.
It added that without public data, it would be impossible to “properly asses” the effectiveness of the UK’s ban on Hezbollah.
The letter was signed by MPs from the governing Conservative Party, Labour and the Democratic Unionists.
Hezbollah has close historical ties to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). Analysts say the IRGC often uses Hezbollah as a proxy force.


Belarus authorities free detainees amid protesters’ pressure

Updated 28 min 6 sec ago

Belarus authorities free detainees amid protesters’ pressure

  • Around midnight, scores of detainees were seen walking out of one of Minsk’s jails
  • The releases came hours after Belarus’ top law enforcement official apologized on state television for the indiscriminate use of force by police

MINSK, Belarus: Belarusian authorities have released dozens of people detained amid demonstrations contesting the results of the presidential election, in an attempt to assuage public anger against a brutal crackdown on peaceful protests.
Around midnight, scores of detainees were seen walking out of one of Minsk’s jails. In the early morning, volunteers also saw at least 119 detainees being released in the сity of Zhodino just northeast of the Belarusian capital. Ambulances arrived to carry those who apparently were unable to walk on their own.
The releases came hours after Belarus’ top law enforcement official apologized on state television for the indiscriminate use of force by police. “I take responsibility for what they say was violence against those people, who happened to be nearby and failed to back off quickly enough,” Interior Minister Yuri Karayev said late Thursday.
The apologies and the release of detainees follow five days of massive protests, in which crowds of demonstrators swarmed the streets to contest the vote results and demand an end to the 26-year rule of authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko. On Thursday, thousands of workers rallied outside industrial plants to denounce the police crackdown and push for a recount of Sunday’s vote.
Nearly 7,000 people have been detained and hundreds injured in the clampdown on demonstrators protesting the official results that said Lukashenko won 80% of the vote and his top opposition challenger only 10%. Police have broken up protests with stun grenades, tear gas, rubber bullets and severe beatings.
On Thursday, hundreds of women formed long “lines of solidarity” in several areas of the capital, Minsk. Many were dressed in white and carried flowers and portraits of detained loved ones.
The human chains grew throughout the day, filling Minsk’s main central squares and avenues and spreading to numerous other cities as motorists honked in support. In Minsk and several other cities, thousands of factory workers also rallied against the police violence, raising the prospect of strikes in a new challenge to the government. Protesters were shouting “Go away!” to demand Lukashenko’s resignation.
Amid growing public dismay, dozens of military and police veterans posted videos in which they dumped their uniforms and insignia in the trash. Several popular anchors at Belarus’ state TV stations have quit.
The demonstrations have spread even though the protest lacks leaders. The top opposition challenger in the vote, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, suddenly emerged Tuesday in neighboring Lithuania and called on her supporters to stop protests in a video that her associates said was recorded under pressure from law enforcement officials before she left. The 37-year-old former teacher had joined the race to replace her husband, an opposition blogger, who has been jailed since May.
The massive protests against election results and police brutality have been an unprecedented challenge to Lukashenko, who has been in power since 1994 and earned the nickname of “Europe’s last dictator” for his relentless crackdown on dissent. The scope and ferocity of the police clampdown were remarkable even for Lukashenko’s iron-fisted rule, triggering widespread anger.
After dismissing protesters as mostly ex-convicts and unemployed, the authoritarian leader kept silent Thursday as the demonstrations spread quickly. Some reports said he was preparing an address to the nation.
A protester died Monday in Minsk when, according to the Interior Ministry, an explosive device he tried to throw at police blew up in his hand. Media reports challenged the ministry’s claim, alleging that he was killed by police. The place where he died quickly turned into a pilgrimage site, with hundreds of people, including European ambassadors, laying flowers there.
The authorities said that a detainee died in the southeastern city of Gomel, but the circumstances of his death weren’t immediately clear.
The brutal suppression of protests drew harsh criticism in the West.
European Union foreign ministers are set to meet Friday to discuss a response, and German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said the 27-nation bloc would “increase the pressure” on Belarus.