MPs concerned over British role in Saudi executions

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A group of senior British MPs has expressed concern that their country’s police might have directly contributed to the arrest of 14 Saudi Arabian people facing imminent execution in the kingdom.

In a cross-party letter published on Friday, the MPs said they were “gravely concerned” that UK police training of Saudi agents in cyber forensics may have enabled the arrests and called on British Prime Minister Theresa May to “personally urge Saudi Arabia’s King Salman and Crown Prince Bin Salman to halt the 14 upcoming executions.”

The prime minister must “take urgent steps to confirm that UK assistance played no role in these individuals’ conviction under Saudi Arabia’s anti-cyber crime law,” the lawmakers noted.

“If the UK has trained Saudi agents in gathering the kind of evidence which is being used to hand down death sentences, it would call into question the viability of UK training for Saudi Arabian criminal justice bodies,” the letter wrote.

The letter, signed by Conservative Andrew Mitchell and Liberal Democrat Tom Brake, also demands a “full account to Parliament of any and all UK training for Saudi police and criminal justice institutions”.

The two MPs had raised concerns about the situation of the 14 men in an urgent question to Parliament earlier this week and called for the UK to condemn the use of the death penalty.

In response, Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt said the British government only had “sketchy” reports but was seeking further clarity in Riyadh and London.

“The UK government opposes the use of the death penalty in all circumstances and in every country including Saudi Arabia, especially for crimes other than the most serious and for juveniles,” said Burt.

The file photo shows a public beheading in Saudi Arabia.

Additionally, Maya Foa, director of the leading London-based rights group Reprieve warned of the consequences if the UK government kept silence in the face of the upcoming atrocity.

“There are serious concerns that the UK government was complicit in their arrest and convictions based on false confessions obtained through torture,” she said.

“By not speaking out against these abuses, the prime minister is condoning the beheadings and putting the UK’s reputation as a defender of human rights at serious risk. Instead of giving British assistance to the Saudi executioners, the prime minister should offer her unequivocal support to those young men facing beheading,” Foa noted.

“When 14 young men face imminent beheading for protest-related offenses, simply raising the cases in private doesn’t cut it,” she concluded.

Among those facing imminent execution are Munir al-Adam, who is half-deaf and partially-blind, and Mujtaba’a al-Sweikat, who was only 17 when he was sentenced to death, according to Reprieve.

Saudi Arabia has been facing protests since 2011, when a wave of uprisings and revolutions hit dictatorial Arab monarchies in the Middle East and North Africa.

Human rights organizations have repeatedly criticized Britain and the United States for giving the Saudi regime an easy pass on perpetrating human rights abuses on its own people.

Saudi Arabia executed a record 158 people in 2015 and another 153 people last year, according to Amnesty International.

A June report by Reprieve found that 41 percent of those executed in the oil-rich kingdom in 2017 were killed for non-violent acts such as attending political protests. UN experts have called for an end to executions for non-violent offenses.

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