The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Alice Gillham in Reprieve's press office: alice [DOT] gillham [AT] / +44 (0) 207 553 8140

Fresh Questions for Government Over Secret Saudi Deals


The Government is facing renewed questions over its agreements with Saudi Arabia, after the cancellation of a Ministry of Justice (MoJ) bid for a prisons contract in in the country.

Yesterday, Justice Secretary Michael Gove announced that the deal was cancelled, following urgent questions over the deal, which would have seen the UK providing services to the Saudi prisons system. The decision followed criticism of the UK's approach in light of Saudi human rights abuses, including the imminent execution of Ali al-Nimr and Dawoud al-Marhoon. Both prisoners were juveniles when they were arrested and tortured following protests in 2012.

However, the Government is now refusing to provide details of the memorandum of understanding (MOU) signed between the MoJ and the Saudi authorities, which the Government has described as "a mechanism for dialogue and exchange of expertise on justice, legal and human rights matters." It has also emerged that a second MOU exists between the Home Office and the Saudi Government.

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The Government has said that the Home Office MOU "draws on UK expertise in the wider security and policing arena" and is designed to "complement work" between public body the College of Policing and "a range of Saudi security bodies." However, the College of Policing has refused to provide details of its work with the Saudi Government, saying that to do so "would cause severe and lasting damage to UK relations with other states."

Several MPs demanded yesterday that the Government reveal details of the Saudi agreements. Mr Gove said, however, that the Government would not share them with Parliament, saying that "such conversations must sometimes remain confidential."

Questions have also been raised about the UK's apparent offer of help to the 2013 Saudi effort to be elected to the UN Human Rights Council. This morning, leaked diplomatic Saudi cables emerged that reveal the Saudi Government discussing how to ensure that international criticism of a recent execution did not damage its bid to be elected onto the HRC - a bid that Britain appears to have supported.

Commenting, Maya Foa, head of the death penalty team at human rights organization Reprieve, said: "The Government has made a welcome decision to abandon its misguided Saudi prisons bid - a deal that would have supported a prison system that is responsible for carrying out the executions of Ali al-Nimr and Dawoud al-Marhoon, as well as countless other abuses. But there remain serious questions about the extent to which the UK is involved with the Saudi government's repressive criminal justice system. The government must come clean to MPs about what agreements it has signed with the Saudis - while ministers must also do everything they can to stop the executions of these two juveniles."

Reprieve is a UK-based human rights organization that uses the law to enforce the human rights of prisoners, from death row to Guantanamo Bay.