The UK is providing security and justice support to many countries where the Foreign Office (FCO) has concerns about the death penalty, a new report shows.
The FCO released a series of assessments on Wednesday (8th February), amid the Brexit vote, detailing serious human rights abuses in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Pakistan and China during 2016. However, Britain is assisting police and prison guards in many of these countries, international human rights organisation Reprieve has found – leading to a risk that UK assistance may be inadvertently supporting the death penalty.
“It is right for the Foreign Office to raise concerns about the death penalty around the world. But it is extremely worrying that the UK is deeply involved in the criminal justice systems of regimes with terrible human rights records. Often this support is shrouded in secrecy and lacks scrutiny.
Alleged protesters in Saudi Arabia face beheading. Ali al-Nimr, Dawood al-Marhoon and Abdullah al-Zaher, who were children when they were arrested, could be executed at any time. Meanwhile Britain is busy training Saudi police in skills that may help them round up more protesters. In Egypt, juveniles like Ibrahim Halawa face death sentences in mass trials, yet the UK is equipping a juvenile criminal court in Cairo.
The UK government needs to make sure its assistance to security forces in these countries does not contribute to the hideous executions highlighted in its own human rights reports.”
Maya Foa, a director at Reprieve
The FCO’s Human Rights Priority Country update report on Egypt for 2016 said “Egyptian courts continued to use the death penalty,” and highlighted “the mass trial of 494 individuals on charges related to a protest that took place in August 2013, which includes Irish national Ibrahim Halawa.” Ibrahim was a child when he was arrested and faces a potential death sentence.
However, the report failed to mention that a UK state-owned company, Northern Ireland Cooperation Overseas Ltd, provided Egypt’s justice ministry with plans and equipment for the building of courthouses – including a juvenile court in Cairo.
The FCO report on Saudi Arabia said: “There was a worrying rise in the use of the death penalty … This includes imposing the death penalty for crimes committed by persons below eighteen years of age … The NGO Reprieve has reported that the majority of Saudi executions are for non-violent offences”.
Absent from the report was any mention of the extensive training Britain gave to police in Saudi Arabia during 2016. The UK College of Policing is teaching the Saudi Arabian interior ministry high-tech forensic skills that risk being “used to identify individuals who later go on to be tortured”, according to the College’s own internal assessment. At least three juveniles – Ali al-Nimr, Dawood al-Marhoonand Abdullah al-Zaher – face beheading in Saudi Arabia, having been sentenced to death for allegedly attending protests.
The Foreign Office report on China commented that “Specific executions stimulated public debate about the death penalty in China.” However, last year the UK agreed a major crime cooperation agreement with China, which could lead to complicity in the death penalty.
The report on Pakistan warned that the country “maintained its policy of sentencing to death those convicted of a wide range of criminal offences…. In particular, serious concerns remain in relation to prisoners with mental and physical illness…”
However, the UK government has spent millions funding Pakistan’s anti-narcotics force to target and arrest drug traffickers. Over a hundred people have been sentenced to death for drugs in recent years, including four people in 2016 and five in 2015. The Government has been highly secretive about the scheme and argued in court that details of a human rights risk assessment should not be published.
Another Foreign Office report, this time on Bahrain, said “We also have concerns over the handing down of the death penalty. We were concerned in particular with the death sentences handed down at the Court of Appeal to Sami Mushaima, Abbas al-Samea, and Ali al-Singace”. However, the UK has trained torture watchdogs which failed to properly investigate claims that the condemned men were tortured into making false confessions. Britain’s police have shown their Bahraini counterparts techniques such as gathering intelligence on protestors. Around 400 guards at Bahrain’s death row jail have received UK training.