Ministers yet to give ‘clear evidence’ to ban Hezbollah – Labour

Labour has questioned a decision to ban Hezbollah, claiming ministers had not presented “clear evidence” for the move.

The Lebanon-based group’s military wing is already outlawed, but the proscription will now be extended to its political arm under a decision expected to be rubber-stamped by MPs.

Labour suggested the move by Home Secretary Sajid Javid may have been motivated by his own leadership ambitions rather than taken in an “objective and impartial” way.

But Labour MPs were not expected to oppose the proscription order in the Commons.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has previously said he regrets calling representatives of Hezbollah “friends” during a meeting in Parliament in 2009.

The proscription order will bring Britain in line with countries including the US in regarding the whole of Hezbollah as a terrorist group.

From Friday, membership will be a criminal offence carrying a maximum sentence of up to 10 years.

A Labour spokesman said: “The Home Office has previously ruled that there was not sufficient evidence that the political wing of Hezbollah fell foul of proscription criteria, a position confirmed by ministers in the House of Commons last year.

“Ministers have not yet provided any clear evidence to suggest this has changed.

“It has also rightly been the view of the Foreign Office for many years that proscribing the political wing of Hezbollah, which is part of the democratically elected Lebanese government, would make it difficult to maintain normal diplomatic relations with Lebanon, or to work with the government on humanitarian issues, including those facing Syrian refugees, in parts of the country controlled by Hezbollah.”

Until now, UK governments have resisted proscribing the organisation in its entirety on the basis that it provides social and political functions in Lebanon and has formed part of the country’s government.

Downing Street said the division between the military and political wings was now untenable and the whole organisation was concerned with terrorism.

But the Labour spokesman said: “Decisions on the proscription of organisations as terror groups are supposed to be made on the advice of civil servants based on clear evidence that those organisations fall foul of the proscription criteria set out in legislation.

“The Home Secretary must therefore now demonstrate that this decision was taken in an objective and impartial way, and driven by clear and new evidence, not by his leadership ambitions.”

Hezbollah – or the Party of God – is a Shia Muslim movement which emerged during the early 1980s with financial backing from Iran.

In 2001, ministers banned its external security organisation. Seven years later, the proscription was extended to Hezbollah’s military wing.

A listing in the official register of banned groups says Hezbollah is “committed to armed resistance to the state of Israel, and aims to seize all Palestinian territories and Jerusalem from Israel”, adding: “Its military wing supports terrorism in Iraq and the Palestinian territories.”

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “In light of Hezbollah’s increasingly destabilising behaviour over recent years we believe it is right to proscribe the entire organisation.

“Hezbollah itself has publicly denied a distinction between its military and political wings.

“The group in its entirety is assessed to be concerned in terrorism.

“The links between the senior leaders of Hezbollah’s political and military wings, as well as the group’s destabilising role in the region, means that the distinction between the two wings is now untenable.”