UK PM fails to raise child executions, despite talk of Gulf ‘reform’

December 7, 2016

Images of Ali al-Nimr

The UK Prime Minister has apparently declined to raise the issue of the death penalty for juveniles and political protestors in Saudi Arabia, despite emphasising in a speech today that the UK is the Gulf’s “partner” in reform and the “embedding” of international norms.

Theresa May met yesterday with Saudi Arabia’s King Salman during her three-day visit to the Gulf Cooperation Council summit in Bahrain. According to reports today, Downing Street could not confirm whether “specific cases of imprisoned or exiled dissidents” had been raised during the meeting.

The comment appears to mark a change in stance from previous statements; as recently as September, the Foreign Office confirmed that Boris Johnson had raised with his Saudi counterparts the cases of three juveniles facing execution in the Kingdom. Ali al-Nimr, Dawood al Marhoon and Abdullah al Zaher were arrested in relation to protests at the ages of 17, 17 and 15, and tortured into false ‘confessions.’

The Saudi authorities have executed several juveniles this year, and international human rights organization Reprieve has written to Theresa May, asking her to use this week’s Gulf visit to press for the release of the three. Reprieve has warned the Prime Minister of evidence that more juveniles have recently been sentenced to death. The Prime Minister’s predecessor, David Cameron, said last year that he would attempt to raise the cases with Saudi Arabia.

Reprieve has also asked the Prime Minister to ask Kuwait to drop its plans to lower to 16 the age at which people can be executed; and to urge Bahrain to release prisoners who were tortured and sentenced to death for attendance at protests, such as father of three Mohammed Ramadan. The Prime Minister is due to meet with the King of Bahrain today. Yesterday Mr Ramadan’s wife, Zainab Ebrahim, appealed to Mrs May to secure his release.

Bahrain and Saudi Arabia have received substantial support and training from the UK for their prison and police services, and this morning, Mrs May said that the UK is “determined to continue to be your partner of choice as you embed international norms and see through the reforms which are so essential for all of your people.”

However, Reprieve has raised concerns over both countries’ continued use of the death penalty and torture to extract false ‘confessions’. During 2016, Freedom of Information requests by Reprieve have revealed that:

Commenting, Maya Foa, a director at Reprieve, said:

“Theresa May’s bid to be the Gulf’s ‘partner of choice’ sounds more like a sales pitch than a much-needed call for reform. Despite years of substantial UK support apparently intended to improve the human rights situation in the Gulf, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia continue to torture and sentence to death juveniles and political dissidents – an appalling breach of the ‘international norms’ that Mrs May says she wants to promote. If the Prime Minister is going to commit the UK to greater cooperation with the Gulf, she must also call for an immediate end to these abuses – and the release of prisoners like Ali al-Nimr.”

ENDS

Notes to editors

1. Reprieve is an international human rights organization. Reprieve’s London office can be contacted on: communications [at] reprieve.org.uk. Reprieve US, based in New York City, can be contacted on Katherine [dot] oshea [at] reprieve.org

2. The full text of the letter to the Prime Minister is available on Reprieve’s website.