Britain’s training of 270 Saudi police sparks calls for transparency

© Stefan Wermuth, Hassan Ali
Britain’s College of Policing has trained 270 police officers from Saudi Arabia despite the state’s poor human rights record, which includes torture and the death penalty.

Human rights groups are demanding the college, which is a sub-body of the Home Office, disclose the kind of training it has given the Gulf state. But the educational body is refusing to release this information, while insisting that the training meets top international human rights standards.  

Evidence of the training, released to the BBC under the UK’s Freedom of Information Act, indicates the college trained 270 Saudi officers between December 2012 and October 2015. The institution is responsible for setting standards of ethics and education for Britain’s police service. 

Before training is offered, proposals must be sanctioned by the International Policing Assistance Board (IPAB), which includes police representatives and government members.

Lack of transparency

The college has refused to tell the BBC precisely how much Saudi Arabia paid it for the training, but instead offered the broadcaster a region-wide figure.

In October 2015, the government withdrew from a £5.9 million ($8.57mn) deal to offer Saudi prison personnel a training-based service.

The decision to pull out of the agreement came in the wake of controversy over Saudi Arabia’s human rights abuses. Despite mounting criticism of the regime, the government claimed it terminated the deal to focus on priorities at home.

The Saudi ambassador subsequently hit back, warning that a change in the UK’s attitude to the Gulf state could have “serious repercussions.”

Chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Human Rights Group Ann Clwyd told the BBC the college needs to be more transparent about its activities. Such said openness would allow the public to decide whether the training the college carried out compounded human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia.

Maya Foa of human rights group Reprieve also argued the college should be more transparent, particularly in a climate of heightened concern over torture in Saudi Arabia.

“The Home Office has serious questions to answer over the relationship between British police and Saudi forces, who are responsible for serious human rights abuses such as torture," she said. 

"Given that the Saudis are executing record numbers of people – including political protesters who were tortured and convicted in secret courts, some when they were just teenagers – the government’s refusal to reveal details of its cooperation with the Saudis is totally unacceptable."

"The Home Secretary must explain urgently why she is risking UK complicity with these terrible abuses.”

Human rights abuses

News of Britain’s training of Saudi police surfaced as hundreds of activists gathered at Saudi Arabia’s embassy in central London on Friday. The campaigners had organized the rally to hand over a 250,000-strong petition, which calls for the release of jailed activist and blogger Raif Badawi.

Marking one year since the 31-year-old was lashed 50 times in a public square in Saudi Arabia, the protesters also demanded the release of his lawyer, who was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment for attempting to set up a human rights monitoring website.

Amnesty International lead the protest vigil on Friday, and urged the Saudi government to release the writer, who was awarded the EU’s Sakharov prize in 2014.

Amnesty has criticized Prime Minister David Cameron for responding inadequately, as Saudi Arabia takes a tougher line on dissent under King Salman, who came to the throne in 2015.