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Why Majed al-Zeer's case against World-Check matters

The Palestinian rights activist's case shows that World-Check should take a great deal more care over accepting politically motivated classifications

Today’s announcement that World-Check, the financial intelligence service owned by Thomson Reuters, has ceased to classify Majed Al-Zeer, the leading Palestinian rights activist, as a terrorist is magnificent news. It is a welcome and overdue vindication for an innocent man.

But there is also deeper significance behind today’s High Court statement which has nothing to do either with World-Check or al-Zeer.

A significance which means that many states will watch today’s event closely.

A pathbreaking case

Till today many governments have been able to classify their political opponents as terrorists, even if there was no evidence to support such claims. Now it will start to become more difficult.

That’s why the case of al-Zeer, director of the Palestinian Return Centre (PRC), is pathbreaking. He’s not a terrorist. The world knows that he is not a terrorist. The United Nations has even granted him and his organisation full consultative status.

Majed al-Zeer (REUTERS)

And yet Israel was able to label him as terrorist, with devastating consequences for al-Zeer and his colleagues, one of which was the arbitrary closure of bank accounts.

In the case of al-Zeer, the claims have come from Israel alone. However, other countries are even greater abusers of the system. In 2014, the UAE designated as terrorist many mainstream charities and organisations, including the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), which has been listed on World-Check as terrorist.

Egypt was widely criticised last year after placing over 1,500 individuals on a state terrorism list, including the exiled footballer star Mohamed Aboutrika. Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states have repeatedly used terrorist designations as a means of putting pressure on neighbouring Qatar.

Abusing the system

The concept of terrorism – the use of violence for political ends - is one of the most inflammatory and toxic terms in contemporary political discourse. It has long been open to abuse and misrepresentation as well as legitimate disagreement over classification.

And there is no questions that Middle Eastern states grossly abuse the word in order to demonise political enemies. So far it’s worked, and international institutions have been ready to collaborate. And this issue also goes beyond the Middle East. 

The Thomson Reuters building in Canary Wharf, London (Reuters/Russell Boyce)

Many nations have sought to abuse Interpol’s Red Notice system to pursue innocent individuals. In 2014, Russia used the international system to apply for the arrest of the British banker William Browder. Other countries that appear to have abused the Red Notice system include Indonesia and Iran. 

Mohamed Ali Harrath, who spent years campaigning against deposed Tunisian president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali’s brutal regime, was eventually forced to flee the country before being pursued through the Red Notice system due to accusations of “crimes involving the use of weapons/explosives and terrorism”. He was only taken off the list once Ben Ali fell in 2011.

Many nations have sought to abuse Interpol’s Red Notice system to pursue innocent individuals

Alexander Adamescu, the son of a Romanian newspaper owner who died in jail in a Bucharest jail early last year after what seems to have been a miscarriage of justice, is currently being held in Wandsworth prison due to claims from the Romanian government that he and his father bribed a judge. 

In my judgement, Romania may well be abusing the European Arrest Warrant which is designed to assist with the extradition process for EU citizens who have fled one member state and are wanted for criminal proceedings in another.

Politically motivated classifications

All these cases have in common the abuse of international organisations and individuals. Whether it’s through the banking system, Interpol or the European Arrest Warrant, these nations attempt to undermine their political opponents by framing them as terrorists or guilty of other crimes they have not committed. 

In this way admirable organisations or institutions are being abused by member states.

Who checks World-Check? It’s high time someone did 
Tom Keatinge
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I have some sympathy for World-Check. In the modern world, where there are concerns about terrorism and money laundering, there is a need for an organisation which can enable banks and financial institutions to check the credentials of their clients. They have no choice but to take notice when nation states such as Israel or the UAE designate individuals or organisations as terrorist. 

I do believe, however, that the case of al-Zeer shows that World-Check should take a great deal more care over accepting politically motivated classifications. Israel and a number of other countries have been abusing the system and this needs to be challenged.

Peter Oborne won best commentary/blogging in 2017 and was named freelancer of the year in 2016 at the Online Media Awards for articles he wrote for Middle East Eye. He also was British Press Awards Columnist of the Year 2013. He resigned as chief political columnist of the Daily Telegraph in 2015. His books include The Triumph of the Political Class, The Rise of Political Lying, and Why the West is Wrong about Nuclear Iran.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye. 

Photo: Pro-Palestine demonstrators hold placards and wave flags during a protest opposite the entrance to Downing Street in central London on 15 May, 2018 (AFP)