Published On: Wed, Jan 13th, 2021

Palestinian activist wins legal battle to have name removed from World-Check ‘terror list’

Palestinian activist wins legal battle to have name removed from World-Check ‘terror list’

Zaher Birawi receives damages from financial database after it ‘wrongly and unjustly’ linked him to terrorism

Rayhan Uddin Tue, 01/12/2021 – 16:30

Zaher Birawi, the chairman of London-based Palestine advocacy group Europal Forum, won a legal battle against World-Check financial database (Twitter/screenshot)

A Palestinian human rights campaigner has won a legal battle against the World-Check financial database after it falsely added him to a terrorism list. 

Zaher Birawi, the chairman of London-based Palestine advocacy group Europal Forum, announced in a statement on Tuesday that he had won damages and forced the influential database to remove his name from the list. 

He said he was included in the list “wrongly and without justification or evidence”, and that he was compensated for the “damages caused as a result of this unspeakable action”. 

World-Check is widely used by leading banks and businesses to assess customer risk and reduce their exposure to legislation intended to tackle financial crime.

‘NatWest bank in the UK closed my account in early 2018. When I asked them for a reason they refused to tell me why. It was the same for many other activities too’

– Zaher Birawi

The database was owned by Thomson Reuters until October last year when it was sold to the investment giant Blackstone, which set up a new risk company, Refinitiv.

Birawi revealed to Middle East Eye that he suffered financial implications as a consequence of the classification. 

“NatWest bank in the UK closed my account in early 2018. When I asked them for a reason they refused to tell me why. It was the same for many other activities too,” he said. 

“I asked many of my friends and colleagues and they have suffered the same. So I decided to go ahead with this case and alhamdulillah [praise be to God] we managed to get this victory.”

The legal settlement included a letter, in which Refinitiv stated: “Mr Birawi’s inclusion in the terrorism category should not be understood to suggest any actual or suspected connection to or involvement in terrorism.” It also confirmed that he had not been convicted of terrorism in the UK or elsewhere. 

World-Check is a ‘witch-hunt’ and it’s time to shut it down

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Refinitiv did not respond to MEE’s request for comment by the time of publication.

Birawi said that while his name was removed from the terrorism list, it still remained in the database under the category of “individuals” of heightened risk. He said that the sources used by World-Check to categorise him on their list were “politically motivated” blogs and official Israeli publications. 

“In 2013, the Israeli government classified me and some others who organised the Gaza Freedom Flotilla as terrorists. They considered this human rights activism to be terrorism,” the activist said. 

“I believe that this is part of a deliberate strategy by the Israeli government to ask its supporters and employees to write negatively about those who are trying to delegitimise the occupation, in order for us to be put on such databases and lists.”

Birawi said that World-Check should not necessarily rely on information provided by Israel, or any other government, on terrorism accusations – citing the example of Egypt. 

Scores of Egyptian human rights defenders and opposition activists have been imprisoned on “terrorism charges” since President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi came to power in 2013, something human rights groups have described as “silencing dissent”. 

Another World-Check loss

In June 2017, former owner Thomson Reuters was forced to pay damages and issue an apology after World-Check falsely linked Finsbury Park Mosque to terrorism. The mosque said that it had its banking facilities withdrawn by HSBC as a result of the listing. 

A month later, the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign, the UK’s largest Palestinian rights group, successfully fought to have its organisation and chairman removed from the terror list, which it said were as a result of “smears” and false claims. 

Two years ago, Middle East Eye exclusively revealed that Majed al-Zeer, the director of the Palestinian Return Centre (PRC), won £10,000 in damages and had his name removed from World-Check’s terrorism list. 

MEE also revealed in 2019 that the World Uighur Council, an internationally recognised advocacy group raising awareness about the repression of the Uighur minority in western China, was also added to the list along with three of its senior organisers. 

‘I hope that they will … be more careful about classifying honest people in such a category, because it is very dangerous and problematic’

– Zaher Birawi

Birawi hopes that the plethora of payouts and legal battles will lead to a change in approach by World-Check. 

“I hope that they will take that into consideration and be more careful about classifying honest people in such a category, because it is very dangerous and problematic,” he said. “I hope these victories will make them think twice.”

He believes that any human rights defenders who face such tribulations in the future should remain resolute. 

“There is a saying in Arabic: ‘No just cause shall be lost when continuously and determinedly pursued.’ I believe that every single individual and organisation must not stay silent or be afraid of taking on these big organisations,” he said.

“It is our right to challenge these things, and if you keep trying you will get a result.”

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