Comment: Why is the UK increasing support to Saudi as it steps up death penalty against protesters?

by Bella Sankey – a Deputy Director of Reprieve

The UK Defence Secretary, Michael Fallon, has signed a security agreement with Saudi Arabia that appears to promise further training for Saudi police, despite their use of torture and the death penalty – including the imminent execution of juveniles.

Michael Fallon is offering yet more support to a Saudi security apparatus that is currently stepping up its use of the death penalty against protesters.

There are already grounds to believe UK training could have helped Saudi police identify protesters who were later tortured, and increasing numbers of juvenile protesters now face imminent execution. British ministers should be using their meetings with the Crown Prince to urge a halt to executions – not offering to prop up the Kingdom’s abusive security bodies.

Michael Fallon signed the agreement yesterday with the Saudi Crown Prince. He said it would “further cement… the UK’s long standing relationship” with the Kingdom and “allow Saudi Arabia to better protect her national security, including counter-terrorism, intelligence, training and education”.

This comes despite Saudi Arabia’s recent resumption of executions for protest-related offences. Several juveniles face imminent execution for attending protests, including Abdulkarim al-Hawaj, Mujtaba al-Sweikat, Salman al-Quraish, Ali al-Nimr, Dawood al-Marhoon and Abdullah al-Zaher.

All were convicted on the basis of forced, false, confessions extracted through torture by Saudi security forces. The charges against the seven include the chanting of slogans, and the use of social media and messaging services like Whatsapp.

Reprieve has raised concerns that existing UK security cooperation with Saudi Arabia – including cybersecurity cooperation, and the training of Saudi police in investigation techniques – could contribute to the use of torture and the death penalty against peaceful protesters, including juveniles.

In 2016, we obtained documents from the UK College of Policing revealing the UK was training Saudi police in digital forensics skills that the College feared could be “used to identify individuals who later go on to be tortured”. It later emerged that the training was carried out without safeguards.

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