British police have trained hundreds of Saudi officers in the last four years, a BBC investigation has found.
A Freedom of Information response from the UK College of Policing has revealed that, since the body’s founding in 2012, some 270 officers have been brought from Saudi Arabia to the UK for “specialist training”, under a £2.7 million deal that also saw 26 British police officers deployed to Saudi Arabia to train police.
The news comes amid serious concerns over a rise in executions and other human rights abuses by Saudi forces, including the use of torture to extract 'confessions.' Human rights organization Reprieve has established that in the past year, while the training was being provided, the number of people executed by the Saudi authorities rose sharply – from some 88 in 2014 to at least 158 last year. Last weekend, the Saudi authorities staged a mass execution of 47 prisoners, at least four of whom were convicted for their involvement in political protests.
Reprieve's research has also shown that the vast majority (72%) of those currently on death row in Saudi Arabia were convicted of non-lethal crimes, such as political protests. Among those awaiting execution are three juveniles – Ali al-Nimr, Dawoud al-Marhoon and Abdullah al-Zaher – who were arrested at 2012 protests, and tortured into ‘confessions’ that were used to convict them in secretive trials.
Reprieve has previously raised concerns over the government’s Overseas Security and Justice Assistance policy, which does not require ministers to reveal the details of assistance to foreign security forces. Ministers are currently refusing to publish existing agreements between the Saudi government and the Home Office, and the Ministry of Justice.
The College of Policing admitted that its training was part of a deal to provide services “in the MENA region", and noted that it carries out a formal human rights risk assessment "for countries where Human Rights compliance is of concern." However, it did not confirm whether such an assessment had been undertaken in this case, or whether it had been signed off by a minister.
This morning, Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond faced criticism over the UK's close relationship with Saudi Arabia. Asked by the BBC's Today programme for his view on Saturday's executions, he claimed that the 47 executed were ‘convicted terrorists’. In fact, they included at least four people who were arrested in the wake of political protests, and tried in highly secretive conditions.
Commenting, Maya Foa, head of the death penalty team at Reprieve, said: “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. Given that the Saudis are executing record numbers of people – including political protestors 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 they are risking UK complicity with these terrible abuses.”
- The police training was reported today by BBC Radio 4's World at One programme, which can be accessed here.
- Details of Reprieve's research on the death penalty in Saudi Arabia is available at the Reprieve website.
- The Foreign Secretary's comments can be accessed here.