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 am grateful for that intervention. As I will set out, we are leading efforts to hold China to account for human rights violations and I will set out some of the conversations that have been had.

We were the first country to lead a joint statement on China’s human rights record at the UN. Last month, the Foreign Secretary expressed her deep concern, in an address to the UN Human Rights Council, about the violations occurring in Xinjiang and Tibet. We made clear our concerns about mass surveillance in Xinjiang, which my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton discussed, including in a joint statement alongside 42 other countries at the UN in October. We also raise our concerns directly with the Chinese authorities at the highest levels, and I personally raised these issues with the Chinese ambassador to London in December. Meanwhile, we continue to work with our international partners to address the human rights violations taking place across the People’s Republic of China. We have imposed sanctions on senior Chinese officials and introduced enhanced controls to block exports of technology that might facilitate human rights violations.

The UK co-founded the Media Freedom Coalition in defence of journalists. The coalition has issued statements about the deteriorating media environments in Egypt, Belarus, Hong Kong, Myanmar and Russia, among others. We have committed £3 million over five years to the UNESCO global media defence fund, which has supported more than 1,700 journalists, including many of those who have received threats online. We also support media freedom through our development aid budget and have spent more than £400 million on that over the past five years. Last December, we joined the Freedom Online Coalition taskforce, which is committed to tackling the growing problem of internet exclusion and shutdowns. We also fund the #KeepltOn campaign, run by the digital advocacy non-governmental organisation Access Now. The campaign brings together a coalition of more than 240 organisations from 105 countries in a global effort to end internet restrictions and shutdowns.

We also support projects that use the online world to foster open societies. Through our digital access programme, we are closing the gap for excluded groups, strengthening cyber security and spreading economic opportunities. Our most recent figures show that, in just one year, the programme benefited 2.3 million people in almost 300 communities in Indonesia, Brazil, Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa. Within the United Nations, we are working to build a coalition of states committed to promoting digital access, protecting human rights online and countering disinformation. We have co-sponsored UN resolutions to urge member states and social media companies to combat misinformation, antisemitism and all forms of hatred. We are also looking forward to hosting the freedom of religion or belief conference in July, which my hon. Friend mentioned. I thank her again for everything that she is doing to support the conference in her role as the special envoy. The impact of digital technologies on freedom of religion or belief and human rights more broadly will be on the agenda.

In order to have influence abroad, we must set an example at home. We are committed to turning our Online Safety Bill into law to require tech companies to tackle illegal activity and content on their platforms, including hate crime, harassment and cyber-stalking.

I am incredibly grateful to my hon. Friend for securing the debate. The online space and new digital technologies represent not only opportunities, but challenges for the protection of human rights. We have heard about some of the terrible abuses and violations perpetrated through digital means.