UK minister ‘passes buck’ over Saudi police training during Westminster debate

June 8, 2016

Image of a beheading occurring

The government today refused to answer questions from MPs about its controversial police training programme with Saudi Arabia.

The subject was debated at Westminster following revelations yesterday from the BBC and international human rights organization Reprieve that Britain’s College of Policing is teaching the Saudi Arabian interior ministry high-tech forensic skills – which could be used to identify individuals who later go on to be tortured and sentenced to death.

FCO minister David Lidington MP said today that the police training programme was “clearly a matter that the Home Office leads on”.

However, the project is coordinated through the British Embassy in Riyadh and, according to documents obtained by Reprieve under Freedom of Information, is designed to support UK foreign policy in the Gulf.

Mr Lidington added that: “The government’s judgment remains that a strong relationship with Saudi Arabia helps us to keep this country both prosperous and safe and that it is through working with Saudi Arabia that we can encourage the changes we wish to see in that country.”

British police are currently teaching their Saudi counterparts hi-tech skills such as decryption and mobile phone analysis, even though these techniques could lead to opposition activists being arrested and executed.

Ali al-Nimr was just 17 years old when he was sentenced to death for attending non-violent protests in 2012 and allegedly using his Blackberry phone to invite friends to join the demonstrations. At trial the prosecution requested execution by “crucifixion”.

The UK government has so far refused to call for the death sentences handed to Ali and two other juveniles, Dawoud al Marhoon and Abdullah al Zaher, to be commuted, instead relying on indications that Saudi Arabia not carry out the sentences. Mr Lidington said today that: “Our expectation is that Ali al-Nimr and two others [Dawoud and Abdullah] will not be executed.”

Commenting, Maya Foa, director of Reprieve’s death penalty team, said:

“By training Saudi officers in this way, the UK government risks becoming complicit in the arrest, torture and execution of juveniles like Ali, Dawoud and Abdullah – all of whom were arrested as children for alleged involvement in protests. The Foreign Office cannot simply pass the buck to the Home Office – both departments have serious questions to answer on who signed off on this project, and how it was allowed to go ahead. The government must stop this high-risk CSI training, and call for the death sentences of Ali, Dawood and Abdullah to be commuted. Vague assurances that the executions will not go ahead are not enough.”


Notes to editors

1. Reprieve is an international human rights organization. Reprieve’s London office can be contacted on: communications [at] / +44 (0) 207 553 8140. Reprieve US, based in New York City, can be contacted on Katherine [dot] oshea [at] / +1 917 855 8064.

2. The College of Policing document is available on request, while the BBC’s report is available here.