Fake human rights group complains of threats

A fake human rights group which apparently tried to gather intelligence about genuine campaigners is claiming that its strange behaviour was the result of threats from "the bad guys".

The group, calling itself "Voiceless Victims", purported to be campaigning on behalf of exploited construction workers in Qatar but an investigation by Amnesty International (see yesterday's blog post) has shown that it was not what it claimed to be. Its office had a bogus address in France and its "volunteer" staff had online profiles which could not be corroborated.

There were also several reasons for suspicion about its purpose:

  • An email sent by Voiceless Victims to Amnesty International contained a link to malware which – had it not been detected – could have compromised Amnesty's computer system. 
  • Voiceless Victims contacted several genuine organisations that support the rights of migrant workers in Qatar, seeking to collaborate with them. Although not an unusual proposal, this could have been intended as a way of finding out about their activities and plans – in other words, surveillance.
  • Voiceless Victims also invited migrant workers, their families and others to submit "personal stories" about abuses in Qatar, which it said it would "share" in "an unconventional and creative way". Again, though not necessarily sinister in intent, this could potentially be used as a way to identify and suppress local activists. 

It there were innocent explanations for this, Voiceless Victims seemed reluctant to provide them. Questions sent by Amnesty, plus Forbes magazine and Le Monde newspaper (which were also following the story) went unanswered.

Eventually the "founder and director", who uses the name "Luke Hann", responded with two emails which talked vaguely about threats to Voiceless Victims but answered none of the specific questions put by investigators. One email said:

"We are a group of activists that have embarked in a quest to expose violations of basic human rights of foreign workers. Unfortunately, early in the process we were confronted with all kinds of threats. We have been under attack multiple times, from those that want to make sure no one exposes their wrong doings. Therefore, we have chosen to operate in a way that would permit us to promote what we believe in but also keep all of us safe from harm."

The suggestion was that Voiceless Victims had engaged in dissimulation to protect itself from attacks – a ploy which had also apparently failed.

On December 15, the day after the first email from "Hann", Voiceless Victims posted an announcement on its website saying: "Voiceless Victims is under attack. The bad guys have won." The whole website has now gone and it appears that Voiceless Victims has relinquished the domain name.

However, it's difficult to see why anyone – including the Qatari authorities – would bother to attack Voiceless Victims. Controversy surrounding Qatar's hosting of the 2022 World Cup had focused a lot of attention on the conditions of migrant workers constructing the stadiums and the issue had been much discussed, not only by human rights organisations but also by mainstream media.

In this welter of negative publicity for Qatar, the contribution by Voiceless Victims had been almost zero. It had circulated a 73-second video talking about the deaths of construction workers, but almost nothing else. Its activities attracted only a small amount of attention on social media and none in the mainstream media – with the result that hardly anyone knew of its existence. 

Meanwhile, the only evidence for the existence of Luke Hann appears to be a profile on LinkedIn which says he has been director of Voiceless Victims since January 2014. Oddly, the profile has no connections with other LinkedIn members or endorsements from them. It states that he lives in London and studied for a "Bachelor of Laws (LLB)" degree at Oxford University between 1990 and 1994. 

Oxford University does not offer degrees with that name. It offers a BA in Law (Jurisprudence) and a BA in Law with Law Studies in Europe. Enquiries by Forbes magazine also established that Oxford University has no record of a Luke Hann.

In January 2001, after an apparent six-year gap since leaving university, Hann allegedly became project manager in Bangladesh for an organisation called Change Their Future.

In January 2006, according to the LinkedIn profile, he became director of the Global Justice Center (which, like Oxford University, told Forbes magazine it hasn't heard of him).