Charity plan to offer data to ‘torture regimes’
BRITAIN: Tony Blair’s charities are proposing to gather intelligence on Muslim communities in Africa for regimes accused of human rights abuses, documents leaked to The Sunday Times reveal.
According to a plan commissioned by Jim Murphy, the former Scottish Labour leader who is understood to be paid more than £200,000 a year to advise Blair, the charities would offer to collect ‘‘highquality data’’ on mosques and schools in African nations under the banner of ‘‘countering extremism’’.
The scheme would exploit ties that Blair has built with African leaders and, according to the documents, strengthen his charities’ collaboration with African regimes to combat Islamist ideology.
It will be seen as an attempt by Blair to be at the forefront of the global campaign against extremism, but it has caused division and dismay among some of Blair’s staff who are concerned it could backfire.
An insider at Blair’s Africa Governance Initiative (AGI) said: ‘‘The kind of governance we should be involved in is to separate religion and state, whereas this proposal will encourage governments to effectively spy on religious institutions.’’
Another AGI source said: ‘‘This proposal is dangerous because it limits religious freedom in regimes known for failing to distinguish between Muslims who are genuine terrorism suspects and those who are rounded up simply for being outspoken.
‘‘As soon as you give dictatorial states control over religious institutions, they will start to exploit them.’’
A spokeswoman confirmed there was a proposal to help governments ‘‘collect publicly available data’’ but said that it did not involve personal data and Blair had not seen or discussed the plan.
A 30-page document suggests initially targeting Nigeria, Mali, Niger, Benin and Ivory Coast. Some of the countries listed as potential partners have been accused of human rights abuses. According to a report this year by the campaign group Human Rights Watch, the security services in Ivory Coast have been responsible for the ‘‘mistreatment and torture of detainees’’. It accused Mali of ‘‘violations against suspected supporters and members of Islamist armed groups’’.