Archive for the ‘Saudi Arabia’ Category


Juvenile under sentence of death

[This is a post from Reprieve]

Mohammed al-Faraj was 15 when he was arrested while leaving a bowling alley in Medina, Saudi Arabia.  He was tortured into confessing to ‘crimes’ linked to non-violent protesting, including attending a funeral at the age of 9.
By any measure he was a child when these so-called ‘crimes’ took place.

He should not have been arrested and he certainly should not be facing a death sentence today.  On April 26, Saudi Arabia announced a royal decree that would end the use of death sentences for children like Mohammed.  Yet, a loophole in this decree means that the judge in Mohammed’s case will still be able to sentence him to death. [1]
Reprieve has just taken on Mohammed’s case.  We are going to need to build up his campaign for justice quickly.

Reprieve needs your help to make sure the international spotlight is on Saudi Arabia.  We know they are sensitive to their public image right now, and we can use that to make sure they do not sentence Mohammed to death.

Please share Mohammed’s story today Facebook link or Twitter link

Together, the Reprieve community brings hope to people like Mohammed who have no one else to turn to.  Thank you for being a part of this community.

[1] “Saudi Arabia Says It Will Stop Executing Children. But Read the Small Print | Opinion,” Newsweek (May 18, 2020).  See below:

Newsweek link

See our monthly death penalty report


Minister announces resumption of arms sales to Saudi Arabia used to cause so much misery in Yemen

It is sometimes difficult to keep up with government announcements.  On Monday 6 July, the Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab announced that a number of individuals would be subject to sanctions and banned entry to the UK.  Their assets would be frozen as well.  The UK is one of the major centres for money laundering and the City is the centre of a web of tax havens around the world.  City institutions are specialists in moving huge sums into secrecy jurisdictions thus enabling a range of criminal activities to go undetected.  Dominic Raab’s announcement was a welcome first step in clamping down on some of this activity therefore and has cross-party support.  In his statement he said:

He outlined human rights violations as those that contradict the right to life, the right not to be subject from torture and the right to be free from slavery, but said they were exploring adding other human rights and looking into including those guilty of corruption.

The Foreign Secretary outlined the individuals who will be sanctioned first.  These include those involved in the torture and murder of Russian lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky (who the Minister concluded his statement by paying tribute to), and Saudi Arabian journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, as well as those responsible for the genocide of the Rohingya population in Myanmar and for North Korea’s gulags.  Statement in the House of Commons Website (extract)

All those countries named have been subject of Amnesty and other human rights organisation’s campaigns.

THEN on the following day, we have an announcement by the Secretary of State for International Trade Liz Truss, (pictured) resuming arms sales to Saudi Arabia.  The contrast is astonishing as one of the countries included in the Foreign Secretary’s announcement was – Saudi Arabia for the murder of Khashoggi.  The announcement followed a legal case last year mounted by a number of human rights organisations, who claimed that the weapons – especially jets – were being used by the Saudis to bomb civilian targets in the war in Yemen.  The destruction there has been horrific with thousands of deaths.  Hospitals, schools, clinics and wedding ceremonies have all been attacked.  Saudi Arabia’s human rights record is dire with torture common, religious persecution rife and the dreadful treatment of women.

The Court of Appeal found against the government because it did not show, in the Court’s judgment, the question of whether there was an historic pattern of breaches of International Humanitarian Law was a question which required to be faced.  Even if it could not be answered with reasonable confidence for every incident, at least the attempt had to be made.  It was because the government had not reached findings on whether specific incidents constituted breaches of IHL as part of an assessment of clear risk, under Criterion 2c that the Court of Appeal concluded that their decision-making process was irrational and therefore unlawful.

Liz Truss’s argument is that they have sought to determine whether these “violations” are indicative of:

(i) any patterns of non-compliance;
(ii) a lack of commitment on the part of Saudi Arabia to comply with IHL; and/or
(iii) a lack of capacity or systemic weaknesses which might give rise to a clear risk of IHL breaches.

We have similarly looked for patterns and trends across the incidents which have been assessed as being unlikely to be breaches of IHL and those for which there is insufficient information to make an assessment.

This analysis has not revealed any such patterns, trends or systemic weaknesses. It is noted, in particular, that the incidents which have been assessed to be possible violations of IHL occurred at different times, in different circumstances and for different reasons. The conclusion is that these are isolated incidents

The decision to resume supplies has been roundly criticised.  Kate Allen of Amnesty said:

This is a deeply cynical move to restart business as usual when it comes to Saudi arms sales.  How the Government can seriously describe a five-year Saudi-led aerial assault on Yemen which has seen numerous examples of civilians killed in schools, hospitals, funeral halls and market places as a set of ‘isolated incidents’ is almost beyond comprehension.  This seems like an attempt to rewrite history and disregard international law.  The UK is bypassing its obligations under the international arms control framework. Its approach to this decision has effectively rendered our own protections meaningless.

Deeply cynical move – AIUK

 

Andrew Smith of the Campaign Against the Arms Trade in a statement said:

This is a disgraceful and morally bankrupt decision. The Saudi-led bombardment of Yemen has created the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, and the government itself admits that UK-made arms have played a central role on the bombing.  We will be considering this new decision with our lawyers, and will be exploring all options available to challenge it.

The evidence shows a clear pattern of heinous and appalling breaches of International humanitarian law by a coalition which has repeatedly targeted civilian gatherings such as weddings, funerals, and market places.  The government claims that these are isolated incidents, but how many hundreds of isolated incidents would it take for the Government to stop supplying the weaponry?

This exposes the rank hypocrisy at the heart of UK foreign policy.  Only yesterday the government was talking about the need to sanction human rights abusers, but now it has shown that it will do everything it can to continue arming and supporting one of the most brutal dictatorships in the world.


Criterion 2c.  Criterion 2c of the Consolidated EU and National Arms Export Licensing Criteria – which requires the Government to assess Saudi Arabia’s attitude towards relevant principles of international law and provides that the Government will not grant a licence if there is a clear risk that the items might be used in the commission of a serious violation of international humanitarian law.

Picture credit: Pink News


We are not meeting at present but hope to resume activities in the Autumn.


The women who campaigned for women to be able to drive in Saudi still in gaol

ACTION TODAY WEDNESDAY 24 JUNE

Next week marks two years since women in Saudi Arabia were finally granted the right to drive.

As part of his Vision 2030, Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman is working hard to be seen as the moderniser of Saudi Arabia, introducing a number of social reforms.

Meanwhile, thirteen Saudi women’s rights activists remain on trial for peacefully campaigning for the same reforms, including the right to drive.  Five of them are still behind bars – including Loujain al-Hathloul, Samar Badawi and Nassima al-Sada.

We’re asking our supporters to take action together this Wednesday 24 June – the day women were granted the right to drive in Saudi Arabia in 2018, while these women’s rights defenders were locked up in prison charged with, among other things, “promoting women’s rights”.

Please share this horn graphic on social media with the following message:

I stand with #Saudi women rights activists who fought for the right to drive. It’s shameful they were locked up for demanding equality. Join me & @AmnestyUK calling on @KingSalman to release them & drop all charges: http://www.amnesty.org.uk/beepforfreedom #BeepForFreedom CC @SaudiEmbassyUK

Thank you!


UK government continues to sell arms to Saudi in violation of court ruling

This post is almost entirely based on a post by the Campaign Against the Arms Trade CAAT, concerning the continuing sale of arms to the Saudi regime despite a court decision telling them to stop and the devastating effects these weapons are having on the people of Yemen.

It’s one year since CAAT won a landmark victory at the Court of Appeal challenging the UK’s arms sales to Saudi Arabia.  As a result of that ruling, we have stopped the export of new weapons for use in the war in Yemen.  A multi-billion pound deal to sell more fighter jets to Saudi Arabia remains on hold.

This is significant progress, but there is more to do.  The government is fighting every step of the way to continue the arms sales.  It is appealing to the Supreme Court for a final decision, with the hearing scheduled for 23-25 November.  Meanwhile the government has still not complied with the Court of Appeal ruling that it should retake its previous decisions to allow weapons sales, and it is continuing to supply the war in Yemen.  It’s not just CAAT lawyers who are demanding answers; in today’s Observer (21 June 2020) all of the Opposition parties have united to call for urgent action.

We must end UK complicity in the war in Yemen.  Thousands of people have been killed by five years of bombing, many more by hunger and disease, and now Yemen is facing a dual threat of cholera and COVID-19 with a health system shattered by war.  One estimate is around 8,000 have died.  There seems no end in sight to the conflict.

Shamefully, UK-made fighter jets, bombs and missiles have played a central role in this destruction.  CAAT’s case challenges the sale of these weapons.  UK rules state that weapons should not be sold where there is a “clear risk” that they might be used in violations of international humanitarian law.  Yet the UK government has continued to support the supply of weapons to the Saudi-led coalition, even as it has bombed schools, hospitals and food supplies.  If the government won’t follow its own rules, we need to make it do so.

In last year’s ruling, the Court of Appeal found that that the government had failed to properly assess the risk of weapons exported from the UK being used in violations of international humanitarian law.  The government was ordered to retake all its previous decisions to export arms to Saudi Arabia and its coalition partners, in a lawful way.  New arms sales were put on hold until this review is complete.  The government agreed to undertake the review as a matter of priority.  Yet, one year on, it has still not completed the review ordered by the Court.  All the time that review has not been completed, weapons sales can continue under pre-existing licences – and BAE Systems can still maintain the warplanes bombing Yemen.

So we must keep the pressure on. The government was ordered to retake its decisions, not just carry on with business as usual.

Sources: Amnesty International; Observer; Global Conflict Tracker, CAAT


Contrasting positions by footballers and supporters

Following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis last week, there have been several photos in the sports pages of groups of kneeling footballers forming either circles (Liverpool) or an H (Chelsea) in support of black rights in the USA.  They are expressing their outrage at the killing of a black American by allegedly over aggressive policing and restraint, which led to Floyd’s death, the latest in a series of black people who have died at the hands of the police.

At the same time – as we have written before – the Premier League is currently debating the sale of Newcastle United Football Club to a consortium funded by Saudi interests to the tune of £300 million.  The litany of human rights abuses in that country are many: torture is common; women’s rights are highly restricted; the death penalty is frequently used, often in public and by beheading, and amputation is practised as a punishment for certain crimes.  There is no free speech and religious persecution is carried out.  Whatever one may think of heavy-handed policing in the USA and the problems over race in that country, it comes no way near the grim state of affairs in Saudi Arabia.  In addition to the human rights abuses there is the war being waged by Saudi in Yemen which is causing immense misery and suffering.

Despite this, supporters of NUFC are overwhelmingly in favour of the transaction taking place.  A poll showed 97% in favour of the sale.  This partly because the current owner – Mike Ashley – has failed to adequately invest in the club and the supporters want the club to do better.  The Premier League is currently debating the sale of the club and the sole consideration, as far as their statements are concerned, is whether broadcasting rights have been infringed:

Qatar broadcaster beIN Sports has also accused the Saudi Arabian government of facilitating the piracy of Premier League football rights in the Middle East through broadcaster beoutQ, although there is a long-running diplomatic row between the two countries.

Saudi broadcaster Arabsat has always denied that beoutQ uses its frequencies to broadcast illegally and has accused beIN of being behind “defamation attempts and misleading campaigns”.  Source: BBC

Newcastle fans bristle at the suggestion that they should not accept such tainted money.  They argue that the issues has only achieved this degree of salience because football is in the public eye.  They point to the sale of arms by the UK and USA governments with little concern for the use they are put or the misery and destruction caused.  They also point to other investments by the Saudi regime in the UK – Uber taxis, or the Independent newspaper – which haven’t received similar negative publicity.

When the widow of Adnam Kashoggi, who was murdered by the regime in Turkey, asked Newcastle to reflect on the funding and not to take it, she was rewarded with some unpleasant trolling on Twitter.

But the contrast is quite stark.  On the one hand an outpouring of sympathy and support for the death of an innocent man in the USA, and on the other, avid support for a takeover by a terrible regime committing far worse acts on its citizens who seek to purchase a football club as part of its sports wash programme.  Quite why there should be this disparity of interest is hard to say.  Possibly sharing the same language so that information from America flows around the world quickly.  The presence of a free press there will be another factor.

If we in the UK – including football fans – could see what is going on in Saudi, if the women were allowed to speak and mobile phone footage of public executions widely circulated, then it is to be hoped their views might be different.

Jonathan Lieu, writing in the New Statesman (22 – 28 May 2020) argues that fans have craved the departure of Mike Ashley and not prepared to get too squeamish about who might replace him.  He says the dissatisfaction with Ashley is not to do with his zero-hours contracts or compromised labour rights, but more to do with his parsimony and failure to splash out some of his wealth on the club.  He argues that the fan’s behaviour and attitudes to the deal –

… is an admission of where the fans sit in the order of things.  Shorn of any real influence, deprived of any meaningful stake in their club, shut out of their stadiums for the foreseeable future, perhaps it is no wonder that some many have simply plumped for the path of least resistance and maximum gratification.  New Statesman p40

This may be so.  But just as important is the power of money in this sport.  Success – other than a fleeting cup run – is almost entirely dependant on huge investment to enable the purchase of top players.  Since investment in football is a risky venture from a financial point of view, the big money comes from people with big egos to support or who are using the sport to launder a reputation.  The desire for success and the need for big money feed on themselves.  Any moral qualms are trampled under foot.  In that, the supporters share with the UK government – whose desire for money from weapons sales – lack any consideration for human rights or the plight of those in Yemen.

Sources: BBC; Premier League; Guardian; New Statesman; aljazeera


Letter from Kate Allen, Director of Amnesty, to the Observer

We have featured on these pages the continuing scandal of arms sales to the Saudi regime.  Not only the destruction of large parts of Yemen these weapons are used for, but the fact that the Saudi regime’s repression of its own people and denial of human rights.  After China, they are the world’s second biggest executioner often following unfair trials and confessions extracted through torture.  But no matter, there’s money to be made.

Kate Allen discusses these factors in her letter to the Observer newspaper on Sunday 10 May 2020:

It is, as you say, long over overdue that the UK government put its relationship with Saudi Arabia on a healthier footing (Now is the time to distance ourselves from an odious regime, editorial 3 May, 2020).  For years, the UK has claimed behind-closed-doors diplomacy with Riyadh has been better than “lecturing” the kingdom over its appalling humans rights record.  Yet repression has only worsened including under the suppose reformer Mohammad bin Salmon.  Now virtually every human rights activist in the the country has either been locked up, intimidated in to silence or forced the flee the country.

We have sole Riyadh plenty of weaponry, but the UK hushed policy on Saudi human rights has sold the country’s embattled human rights community shamefully short.

The weapons are used in the war in Yemen the bombing of which has caused appalling damage to the nation’s infrastructure.

Attacks by the Saudi-led coalition have destroyed infrastructure across Yemen. Saudi forces have targeted hospitals, clinics and vaccinations centres.  Blockades have starved the population and made it hard for hospitals to get essential medical supplies.  Source; Campaign Against the Arms Trade

The UK is complicit: many of the Coalition’s attacks have been carried out with UK-made fighter jets, and UK-made bombs and missiles – and the UK government has supported them with billions of pounds of arms sales.

 


UPDATE 22 JUNE

WTO ruling puts sale of the club to a Saudi backed investment vehicle in doubt.

Strong local support for the Saudi investment

In a previous post we discussed the possible purchase of Newcastle United Football club by a consortium using Saudi funds.  The consortium wishing to purchase the Newcastle Football club using Saudi money from their sovereign wealth fund is receiving strong local support.  The local newspaper the Newcastle Chronicle has run several pieces discussing the various moves and bidding in the saga.  A poll shows overwhelming support for the purchase:

The Newcastle United Supporters Trust has thrown its weight behind the potential takeover of the club after publishing a survey of members which showed overwhelming support for the buy out.

A Trust survey has found 96.7% of their members are in favour of the proposed takeover by Amanda Staveley’s PCP Capital Partners, along with the Reuben Brothers and the Saudi Arabian PiF.   Mark Douglas, Chronicle, 25 April 2020

It is the comments pieces which are most revealing however.  Supporters are passionate about their club and want it to do well, understandably so.  They do not take kindly to doubts expressed by Amnesty or others about the wisdom of the take over.  One writer sums up the situation well;

It would be hugely hypocritical and financially damaging if the government (which deals in billions of pound worth of arms with the Saudi’s) were to step in and put a stop to this deal going through. Why should NUFC be forced to act as a deterrent to the Saudi human rights. Organisations such as amnesty international (sic) and the UN have been unable to enforce any legal obligation on the Saudi’s so why should a football club be expected to do so.  Both Amnesty and the UN should be able to enforce a political solution, and not try to use NUFC as leverage. We won’t be the first Premiership club to be owned by Saudi’s or another middle eastern domain, non of whom have good Human Rights reputations. I cannot believe for one minute that the government would have any legal right to block this deal and the FA have allowed other clubs to be purchased by Saudi’s previously so they have already set a precedence.  NEWCASTLE500

He or she has a point.  Saudi is the largest purchaser of arms from the UK.  Royalty and a succession of ministers and prime ministers have paid court to the Saudis so why should NUFC forego a huge injection of cash when the government is obviously keen to do so?  On 26 April 2020 it was revealed that the UK government has increased arms sales to regimes with a poor human rights record.  Two wrongs do not make a right however. The British government is so ensnared in arms sales to Saudi that to stop would cause enormous damage to our arms industry and to our balance of payments.  Small wonder the minister, Oliver Dowden, wants to keep well away from the problem.  They Work for You reveals he generally votes against human rights and has voted for the abolition of the Human Rights Act.

If the Chronicle’s survey results reflect what people in Newcastle think, it is truly depressing.  Is the only consideration the success or otherwise of their football club?  The coverage also sought the opinions of past players who were also said to be enthusiastic.

Reading the Newcastle Chronicle pieces one would gain only small hints of the human rights situation in Saudi or what they are doing in Yemen.  The pieces discuss the ins and outs of the deal largely to the exclusion of all else.  If supporters read more of the nature of the money they are so keen to get their hands on, would they react differently?

Football has become enmeshed in money.  Without huge budgets, no team can hope to win titles or afford to buy the best players.  Has the desire for success and prestige corrupted the game?  As Kate Allen, director of Amnesty put it:

The Premier League is putting itself at risk of becoming a patsy of those who want to use the Premier League to cover up actions that are deeply immoral, in breach of international law and at odds with the values of the global footballing community.

A classic example of sports wash.

 


Plans by a consortium funded by Saudi Arabia to purchase Newcastle United come under attack

Anyone who has followed the Yemen conflict or is the least bit aware of human rights around the world, will know of Saudi Arabia’s dismal record on this front.  For five years they have waged a brutal war in Yemen leaving the country a wreck and many thousands dead.  We have frequently described their activities in previous blogs on this site. Their bombing of civilian targets is a disgrace as is the process of what is called ‘double tapping’ that is, circulating round after an attack on a hospital, school or wedding, and returning for a second round of bombing to kill the rescue workers.  That the RAF is involved in this activity – supposedly ‘advising’ the Saudis – is a stain on the UK’s international reputation.

Their human rights record is appalling.  Torture is common and confessions extracted using the process used to justify executions.  Death by beheading in public displays are the norm.  Women’s rights are severely restricted despite the promised reforms.  Human rights activists are regularly targeted and of course there is the murder of Adnam Kashoggi who was almost certainly dismembered after his death by Saudi personnel.

Now they want to purchase Newcastle United football club via the Public Investment Fund chaired by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and the sum of £500m is mentioned in a deal.

Kate Allen, Amnesty’s Director said:

Amnesty UK director Kate Allen said in a separate letter to Masters [chief executive of the Premier League]: “So long as these questions [about Saudi Arabia’s human rights record] remain unaddressed, the Premier League is putting itself at risk of becoming a patsy of those who want to use the glamour and prestige of Premier League football to cover up actions that are deeply immoral, in breach of international law and at odds with the values of the Premier League and the global footballing community”.

She suggests that Newcastle fans to familiarise themselves with the human rights situation in Saudi Arabia before the deal goes ahead.  For many fans, their chief desire is to see a new owner to replace Mike Ashley, the current one.

Saudi Arabia has been trying, unsuccessfully so far, to improve its image and using ‘sports wash’ is part of that plan.  The sums of money are huge and it appears that sports people are unconcerned at the source of the money or how tainted it is before accepting and cashing in the cheques.

The country is the major overseas purchaser of our arms exports.  Royalty have been frequently pressed into service as part of the charm offensive.  Unsurprisingly, the culture secretary, Oliver Dowden MP said it was a ‘matter for the Premier League’ and the government is unlikely to intervene.

Football is big business and the sums paid to players and their transfer fees can be stratospheric.  Players are hugely influential and many young people see them as heroes.  Although players are not involved in this transaction directly, they will ultimately benefit from it financially.

To quote Jonathan Lieu writing in the Guardian:

And so, welcome to the new orthodoxies of English football.  Saudi Arabia is good.  Amnesty International is bad.  New signings are more important than murder, broadcast rights more important than women’s rights, and a basic sense of humanity is ultimately expendable if you can scrape into next season’s Europa League.  It’s a manifesto, to be sure.  Just don’t expect anyone with a scintilla of decency to feel warmly about it.  (23 April 2020)

Sources: Guardian, BBC, CNN

 


Zakia’s husband was one of the 37 people killed in a mass execution in Saudi Arabia on April 23, 2019

Saudi Arabia has taken my husband, and now won’t let us grieve. My children and I want to bury him and pay our respects. We deserve that much. Zakia Albakheet

These executions happened without warning, so Zakia and other families never had the chance to say goodbye.  Now, Zakia is fighting for the right to bury her husband, Abbas al-Hassan, whose body was never returned. Together, we can help.

Will you share Zakia and Abbas’s story from Newsweek with your friends and family, marking the anniversary of Saudi Arabia’s 37 illegal executions one year ago today

The Saudi government beheaded Zakia’s husband despite multiple protests from the United Nations.  It was an injustice – and it continues so long as the Saudi authorities prevent her from burying her husband, and mourning his death.  Abbas deserved a fair trial and a fair chance at justice. He didn’t get it. Now, a year after his execution, his wife Zakia deserves the chance to say goodbye. With your help, we can make sure her story is known and that Saudi authorities are held to account.

The Reprieve community has shown that the Saudi government is sensitive to its image on the international stage.  Together, we have kept the stories of Ali al-Nimr, Dawood al-Marhoon and Abdullah al-Zaher in the public eye and continue to push British politicians to speak up for them.

Together, we can fight for Zakia to have the chance to say goodbye to Abbas.  Please share their story in Newsweek with your friends and family.

Source: Reprieve


Reprieve have highlighted again the plight of Ali al-Nimr in Saudi Arabia
Arrested as a minor and confession achieved through torture

Ali al-Nimr was 17 years old – a minor – when he was arrested on 14 February 2012 in Qatif, a town in Saudi Arabia known to be a centre for pro-democracy demonstrations.  After his arrest, officers of Saudi Arabia’s General Intelligence Directorate interrogated and tortured him.  Ali signed a confession that one of his interrogators wrote for him, even though he did not understand what he was signing. Throughout his interrogation and prior to his trial Saudi authorities denied Ali the right to speak with a lawyer.

Reprieve, in a recent communication say:

Ali has spent the last 6 years on death row with the threat of execution hanging over him.  A threat made worse by coronavirus.  Our investigators, lawyers and campaigners are working hard to free Ali and others who were sentenced to death as children in Saudi Arabia.

With your help, we’ve made sure Ali’s life has been protected so far by making sure British politicians speak up for him. But this is not an easy campaign – and it’s not one we can pause for a moment, even during this pandemic.  20 April 2020

Amnesty has campaigned on his behalf and a post with the mother’s story can be read here.

When Ali’s story first surfaced, the UK’s shameful role in promoting Saudi Arabia’s membership of the UN’s human rights council was revealed via Wikileaks.

Reprieve notes that Saudi has executed its 800th individual in 5 years.   Since King Salman bin Abdulaziz came to power five years ago, the execution rate has doubled from the previous 5 years.

We urge you to take action and this can simply done via the Reprieve site the link for which is below:

https://reprieve.org.uk/take-action/

Picture: Amnesty

Sources: Reprieve; Amnesty International; American for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain; Independent

[update 22 April with different picture]