UK-Saudi prisons deal dropped – Reprieve comment

October 13, 2015

Images of Ali al-Nimr

The Government has dropped a bid to provide services to the Saudi prison system.

The announcement, made today, comes after it emerged Justice Secretary Michael Gove had demanded that the deal should be cancelled, but was overruled by David Cameron and Philip Hammond. The issue was set to be debated in the House of Commons at 12.30pm today, following urgent questions from MPs.

The cancellation of the bid comes ahead of the planned execution of two Saudi juveniles, Ali al-Nimr and Dawoud al-Marhoon. Both were 17 when they were arrested and tortured into ‘confessions’ in the wake of protests in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province. Executions are shrouded in secrecy in Saudi Arabia, and it is possible that both juveniles could now be executed at any time, without prior notification to their families.

The past few days have seen renewed scrutiny of the UK’s close relationship with Saudi Arabia. It was recently revealed that in March, Home Secretary Theresa May signed a memorandum of understanding with her Saudi counterpart for further joint activities between UK police and “a range of Saudi security bodies.” Recently leaked Saudi diplomatic cables, meanwhile, appeared to show British representatives to the UN entering into a deal to support Saudi Arabia’s 2013 election to the Human Rights Council.

Commenting, Kate Higham, caseworker at human rights organization Reprieve, said:

“It is extremely welcome that the Prime Minister has dropped the MoJ’s Saudi prisons bid – the decision could not have come soon enough. This deal, if it had gone ahead, would have meant the UK was complicit in the same system that is threatening to execute juveniles Ali al-Nimr and Dawoud al-Marhoon for the ‘crime’ of protesting. Britain’s alliance with Saudi Arabia, however, remains extremely strong. Cancelling the bid has sent a clear message that the UK does not support Saudi Arabia’s gross violations of human rights, and David Cameron must now use this moment of opportunity to prevent the brutal executions of Ali and Dawoud.”


Notes to editors

1. For further information, please contact Reprieve’s press office on +44 (0) 207 553 8140

2. Further detail about the bid can be viewed here.