On a visit to Saudi Arabia, the French President #FrancoisHollande, called for a ban in the use of the death penalty AFP reports. This is significant because Saudi is in the top three countries in the world to use the penalty often carried out in public. It is also significant because it was done reasonably publicly. Our own UK government is shy of making public statements about the barbaric activities in Saudi and the reason is likely to be trade and in particular weapons sales which are huge. France is equally a big supplier of weapons and yet feels able to speak out.
Human rights issues are not confined to the use of the death penalty. Torture is routine. Many are arrested arbitrarily and held incommunicado for months and in some cases years. There is no free press and there are many, many restrictions on women who are not able to travel unaccompanied or to drive for example.
The issue of what goes on in Saudi exploded earlier this year surrounding the case of Raif Badawi who was to receive 1000 lashes and fined a million Riyalls for the crime of insulting Islam. Thousand lashes is effectively a death sentence. Following an international outcry after the first 50 lashes – given in front of a cheering crowd – the sentence was suspended, reportedly on medical grounds, and he languishes in prison.
The second event that caused an outcry was the wish to lower our flags to half-mast following the death of King Abdullah. This caused widespread concern – revulsion even – and put our government in a spot. The Independent newspaper in the UK reported a meeting David Cameron, the Prime Minister, had with some young people who questioned him about this. He is reported to have said:
We have a long-standing relationship between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and our United Kingdom here, a relationship between our two monarchs and between our governments. We don’t agree with a lot of things that the Saudi do – we don’t agree with the way they treat people for instance criminals – and we make it very clear [what] those differences [are]. Independent February 2015
Interesting the use of the phrase ‘the way they treat criminals’ here implying that the justice regime is too harsh on them and moreover, is just limited to criminals. Since torture is routine, arrests are arbitrary, people are not allowed access to lawyers, and people are flogged and executed publicly, it does seem a bit limp .
The close relationship with the royal families is also a sensitive one. Prince Charles went to the funeral of King Abdullah and the issue of the sentence on Badawi was a live one. Amnesty International said in a statement in February:
From the various briefings from the Palace this week, we’re cautiously optimistic the Prince Charles would raise Mr Badawi’s outrageous case.’
That was three months ago and no doubt the optimism was real. However, Mr Badawi is still in prison even though he hasn’t been flogged since. The contrast between the French President’s statement and our own government’s statements – or lack of them – is marked. When ISIS carried out beheadings, our politicians were falling over themselves in outrage. So far this year Saudi has executed 78 people in comparison with 87 in the whole of 2014.