British government sanctioned sale of spy equipment to Honduras

An activist with his face covered holds a red flag. He is stood in front of a line of police officers and military personnel holding shields.

The British government sanctioned the sale of spy equipment – capable of intercepting, tracking, and monitoring emails, mobile phones, and messaging services like WhatsApp – to Honduras, shortly before a recently disputed election. The telecommunications equipment was worth at least £300,000 and was sold to law enforcement agencies in Honduras with a dismal human rights record. Honduras has seen regular outbreaks of violence since a coup in 2009 that brought the National party to power, and has since been subject to allegations of state sponsored killings and election fraud.

During the 2017 election, opposition politicians believe their electronic communications were hacked by authorities. WhatsApp messages sent by Manuel Zelaya, the president of the Liberal opposition party, were published online and shared on social media. The 2017 election was heavily disputed and saw huge street demonstrations; the Honduran government responded with thousands of heavily armed police, swat teams, and military personnel. 40 people were killed and and more than 2000 detained.

The British government is subject to the 2008 British Export Control Act, which prohibits the sale of arms to countries where there is a clear risk that they will be used to oppress their own people – this hasn’t stopped the licensing of spyware equipment to Honduras and a number of other authoritarian regimes, including Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Turkey, and Egypt.

“The British government has sold Honduras monitoring and decrypting technology expressly designed to eavesdrop on its citizens, months before the state rounded up hundreds of people in a well orchestrated surveillance operation.” said Lloyd Russell-Moyle, a Labour MP and member of the government’s committee for arms export control. Russell-Moyle has tabled a parliamentary question demanding the government name the company that sold the equipment to Honduras.

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