#SheikhNimr: Hammond arrives in Saudi amid London embassy protests

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Foreign Secretary Phillip Hammond is in Saudi Arabia to discuss security and human right issues. His visit comes as hundreds of activists head to the Saudi embassy in London to protest the execution of 17-year-old Sheikh Al-Nimr and other prisoners.

Relations between the UK and Saudi Arabia have worsened in the past couple of weeks. Despite this, Hammond says he will talk to “key partners” about issues ahead of Saturday’s International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) Manama Dialogue. 

The foreign secretary tweeted an image of himself sitting with the King of Saudi Arabia Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and Prince Mohammed bin Nayef.

Met @KingSalman & Prince Mohammed bin Nayef. Exchanged views on range of issues, including Syria, #antiISIL & Yemen,” he said on Twitter.

His followers asked whether Hammond also raised human rights abuses.

‘Human rights’

A few weeks ago, the British government announced it had pulled the plug on a controversial £5.9-million deal to provide “training needs” for Saudi prison service staff.

The decision was made shortly after Prime Minster David Cameron vowed to intervene in the “extremely concerning” case of British grandfather Karl Andree, who was sentenced to 350 lashes after Saudi police caught him with wine bottles in his car.

During his meeting on Wednesday, Hammond announced Andree will be released from custody within a week to be reunited with his family in Britain.

Saudi ambassador to the UK, Mohammed bin Nawaf bin Abdulaziz, said Britain’s cancelation of the prison contract is an example of “respect being breached.”

However, since the bid was withdrawn, little progress has been made in securing the release of prisoners enduring torture.

‘Outrageous death sentence’

Hundreds of activists will protest outside the Saudi embassy in London on Wednesday against the barbaric death sentence handed to 17-year-old Sheikh Al-Nimr and six other prisoners.

Nimr is set to be beheaded for protesting in Saudi Arabia. He was allegedly tortured and forced to sign a confession, according to campaigners.

The Free Sheikh Nimr Baqir Al-Nimir campaign told its Facebook followers: “Join us outside the Saudi Embassy in London as we detest the outrageous death penalties against ‪#‎SheikhNimr‬ ‪#‎AliAlNimr‬ & the other beautiful youth.

These individuals found their voices despite much danger to them, now it’s time for you to find yours,” it added.

It has also emerged that blogger Raif Badawi, sentenced to 1,000 lashes and 10 years in prison for criticizing Saudi police, will receive more lashes “soon” despite nearly dying in January as a result of his punishment.

According to Amnesty International, at least 175 people have been executed in Saudi Arabia in the past year after unfair trails lacking basic safeguards.

Cameron’s government has been criticized for even considering offering services to the Saudi prison system.

‘Britain will not be silenced on Saudi’s horrific abuses’

Human rights charity Reprieve said the Saudi government seems to believe Britain “must keep its mouth shut about their horrific abuses.”

The Saudi government’s misconceived view seems to be that not only must Britain keep its mouth shut about their horrific abuses – we should also be actively supporting them,” caseworker Kate Higham said.

If Britain had gone ahead with providing services to the Saudi prisons system, we would have been complicit in the horrific sentences handed down to Ali, Dawoud and others like them,” she added.

‘War crimes in Yemen’

On Wednesday, Amnesty International said the recent attack on a Médecins Sans Frontières hospital “underlines our concern that the UK is a party to terrible war crimes in Yemen.

There should be an independent investigation into events at Haydan Hospital and meanwhile the UK should immediately suspend all arms exports to Saudi Arabia and other members of the coalition currently bombing Yemen that could be used in attacks like this,” it added.