Digital Persecution

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:01 pm on 21st April 2022.

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Photo of Amanda Milling Amanda Milling Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) 5:01 pm, 21st April 2022

I congratulate my hon. Friend Fiona Bruce on securing the debate, which, as she set out in her excellent speech, is an important one. I thank her for everything that she does as the Prime Minister’s special envoy for freedom of religion or belief.

I make it absolutely clear that human rights must be protected both offline and online. New technologies and online communities provide a platform to strengthen democracies and human rights, but they also provide new tools for repression, persecution and censorship, which are putting open societies and democratic freedoms under pressure.

The UK Government condemn all actions that violate human rights, whether offline or online. We share the concern of my hon. Friend and others about the growing use of digital technology to target human rights defenders and civil society. We are troubled to see the increasing levels of gender-based harassment and abuse online, and we are strongly opposed to Governments unlawfully shutting down or restricting access to the internet and social media.

Everyone should be able to make the most of the positive opportunities that the online world offers. That is why the Government are pursuing a three-pronged approach to promote internet access and protect human rights online. First, we are pressing states to uphold their human rights obligations and working with them to spread digital access to excluded groups. Secondly, we are campaigning for media freedom and leading international efforts to promote digital democracy. Thirdly, we are working with international partners, including through the UN, to protect those whose rights are abused or violated online.

On the first, we regularly raise issues of concern with other Governments, in public and in private. We have led international efforts to hold China to account for the human rights violations that we have heard about today.