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HUMAN rights campaigners lambasted Philip Hammond yesterday after he refused condemn the Saudi Arabian execution of 47 people, including political protesters.
The Tory Foreign Secretary dismissed the victims as “convicted terrorists” and argued that diplomatic intervention could only be effective in individual cases.
Legal action charity Reprieve death penalty team leader Maya Foa welcomed his intervention on behalf of young protester Ali al-Nimr and other youths but said Mr Hammond was “alarmingly misinformed” about the mass execution.
“Far from being ‘terrorists,’ at least four of those killed were arrested after protests calling for reform — and were convicted in shockingly unfair trials,” Ms Foa said.
“The Saudi government is clearly using the death penalty, alongside torture and secret courts, to punish political dissent.”
Saudi Arabian Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman al-Saud has claimed that their trials had been fair and Saudi authorities sent a memo to all British MPs this week, seeking to justify Saturday’s mass execution.
But Reprieve, which campaigns against the death penalty, said that, contrary to their claims, the 47 prisoners included at least four people who were arrested in relation to political protests.
The killing of Shi’ite sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, an outspoken critic of the Saudi regime who denied advocating violence, has caused widespread protests across the Shi’ite world.
Reprieve claimed that the protesters were convicted in secretive trials in Saudi Arabia’s specialised criminal court, with defence lawyers often denied access to the courtroom and their clients.
Three are still awaiting execution in relation to protests. Ali al-Nimr, Dawoud al-Marhoon and Abdullah al-Zaher, remain in solitary confinement, and could be executed at any time.
Mr Hammond said that Britain had been lobbying the Saudi authorities regularly for “assurances” that the death penalty would not be carried out in their cases.
But Ms Foa said: “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.”
Amnesty International UK head of policy and government affairs Allan Hogarth said: “The death penalty is wrong in all circumstances — no ifs or buts — and that’s a universal principle to which the UK claims to subscribe.”
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