Cameron’s Saudi trip delayed amid executions outrage

British Prime Minister David Cameron (L) and Saudi Arabia's Finance Minister Ibrahim Al-Assaf © Sergei Karpukhin
Prime Minister David Cameron has postponed his tour of the Gulf States, including Saudi Arabia, amid outrage at the Sunni theocracy’s mass executions and Britain’s seemingly weak response to them.

The tour, which was due to start in Riyadh, will now take place in March at the earliest. Senior sources say there is no connection between recent Saudi executions and the delay, however.

The Gulf monarchy recently carried out a mass execution of 47 people, including long-time dissenter and prominent Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr.

News of the postponement comes as it is revealed that Saudi Arabia was the one country omitted from the UK’s international anti-death penalty policy document.

The omission was found by the Independent in a 2011 Foreign Office document, which set out a five-year strategy for dealing with capital punishment around the world.

Countries named include Barbados and Jordan, which execute about ten prisoners a year, but the document failed to mention close ally and UK arms trade customer Saudi Arabia, which executes ninety per year.

Reprieve death penalty team director Maya Foa told the Independent: “Saudi Arabia has consistently ranked in the world’s top five executioners, and a large proportion of beheadings carried out in the country have been for non-violent offences, including protest."

It is shocking that the Kingdom was absent from the countries targeted by the UK’s death penalty strategy over the past five years, when every other major executioner in the world – China, Iran, Iraq, the US and Pakistan – was included,” she added.

Labour ministers have also begun to pressure the government over a secretive deal made with the Saudis in 2014.

The “memorandum of understanding” was signed by Home Secretary Theresa May in 2014 regarding judicial cooperation and is still in effect, according to Downing Street sources, despite the cancelation of a UK government deal to service Saudi prisons in 2015 under Labour pressure.

In an open letter to Justice Secretary Michael Gove, Labour’s human rights minister Andy Slaughter said it would be wrong for Britain “to be seen to be cooperating with the Saudi justice system” and demanded the publication of the mysterious memorandum of understanding.

Serious concerns have been raised not only about the sentences and the manner in which the executions were carried out, but also whether due process has been followed and whether the defendants received a fair trial,” Slaughter said.