Foreign Secretary refuses to condemn Saudi mass execution

January 8, 2016

The UK Foreign Secretary has claimed that 47 people executed by the Saudi authorities on Saturday, including four protestors, were “convicted terrorists”, and has refused to condemn the Saudi government’s actions.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme this morning, Philip Hammond was invited to condemn the executions, but replied “let’s be clear that these people were convicted terrorists”. He added that the UK has made its opposition to the death penalty “well known” to the Saudi government, as well as other countries such as Iran, but that he believed the UK could only be effective in individual cases.

Mr Hammond’s comments come after Saudi Arabia’s Deputy Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman,  gave an interview in which he labelled those killed as terrorists, and claimed that their trials had been fair. It has also emerged that the Saudi authorities this week sent a memo to all British MPs, attempting to justify Saturday’s mass execution.

Contrary to those claims, the 47 prisoners included at least four people who were arrested in relation to political protests: activist Sheikh Nimr and young men Ali al-Ribh, Mohammad Shioukh and Mohammad Suweimal. Ali was 18 when he was arrested, reportedly by police entering his school. All four protestors were convicted in secretive trials in the country’s Specialized Criminal Court, with defence lawyers often denied access to the courtroom and their clients. In at least one of the cases, the court relied on a ‘confession’ extracted through torture as evidence.

Three juveniles still awaiting execution in relation to protests – Ali al-Nimr, Dawoud al Marhoon and Abdullah al-Zaher, who are assisted by human rights organization Reprieve – were also sentenced to death in the SCC, after being tortured into signing statements. All three remain in solitary confinement, and could be executed at any time. Mr Hammond said that the UK had been lobbying the Saudi authorities regularly for “assurances” that the death penalty would not be carried out in their cases.

Recent research by Reprieve has found that, of those facing execution in Saudi Arabia in 2015, the vast majority – 72 per cent – were convicted of non-lethal offenses such as political protest or drug-related crimes, while torture and forced ‘confessions’ were frequently reported. Reprieve has also established that the Saudi authorities executed at least 158 people in 2015 – a marked increase on the previous year.

Commenting, Maya Foa, head of the death penalty team at Reprieve, said: “While Philip Hammond’s efforts to prevent the execution of Ali al Nimr and other juveniles are welcome, it appears he is alarmingly misinformed about the mass executions. Far from being ‘terrorists’, at least four of those killed were arrested after protests calling for reform – and were convicted in shockingly unfair trials. The Saudi government is clearly using the death penalty, alongside torture and secret courts, to punish political dissent. By refusing to condemn these executions and parroting the Saudis’ propaganda, labelling those killed as ‘terrorists’, Mr Hammond is coming dangerously close to condoning Saudi Arabia’s approach.”


Notes to editors

1. Reprieve is an international human rights organization. Reprieve’s London office can be contacted on: communications [at] / +44 (0) 207 553 8140. Reprieve US, based in New York City, can be contacted on Katherine [dot] oshea [at] / +1 917 855 8064.

2. Details of the Saudi memo to British MPs can be seen here, while an interview Prince Mohammed interview with the Economist is available in full here.

3. Details of Reprieve’s research on the death penalty in Saudi Arabia is available at the Reprieve website.