Raif Badawi Discussed in the British House of Lords Today
The case of Saudi blogger Raif Badawi was openly discussed in the United Kingdom's House of Lords today.
Saudi Arabia: Raif Badawi
Asked by Lord Avebury
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what representations they have made to the government of Saudi Arabia about the confirmation of a sentence of 1,000 lashes and 10 years in prison against Raif Badawi.
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Anelay of St Johns) (Con): My Lords, we are extremely concerned about Raif Badawi’s case and have discussed it at the most senior levels in the Government of Saudi Arabia, most recently on 9 June. The Foreign Secretary discussed this case in February and March with the Saudi Minister of the Interior, His Royal Highness Mohammad bin Naif, now Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia. The case is under active consideration and we will continue to watch it closely.
Lord Avebury (LD): My Lords, when the first 50 lashes were administered to Mr Badawi, he needed medical attention. If the Saudi Supreme Court’s decision that he should undergo a further 19 sessions of 50 lashes each is carried into effect, it will amount to torture followed by death. Does my noble friend consider it appropriate for a state such as Saudi Arabia, which has barbarous and inhumane punishments on its statute book for trivial offences, to continue to be a member of the Human Rights Council, and will the UK take steps to have the country removed from that position?
Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, I shall be attending the Human Rights Council early next week. I know that a wide range of issues will be raised but I have not yet seen any matter referring to the membership of any individual country. However, it is the view of the United Kingdom that the treatment of people in detention must be in line with the protocol on torture, to which, of course, Saudi Arabia is a signatory.
Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB): My Lords, does the Minister agree that the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, about the role of the United Nations Human Rights Council is fundamental? As recently as last week, the conference held by the OIC took place in Jeddah of all places—in a country which ranks sixth on the World Watch List for countries that violate freedom of religion and belief. Will she say whether the United Kingdom raised Raif Badawi’s case during that conference?
Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, I repeat that I have raised this case on several occasions over a period. We remain deeply concerned and will continue to do our duty in that regard. On Tuesday in another place, the Foreign Secretary made it clear that we are urgently seeking to make contact with interlocutors and continue to do so. He said:
“It will be my intention certainly to ensure that nothing happens on Friday”—[Official Report, Commons, 9/6/15; col. 1042.],
and he hopes that nothing of that nature happens at all.
Lord Tugendhat (Con): My Lords—
Lord Judd (Lab): My Lords—
Lord Pearson of Rannoch (UKIP): My Lords—
The Lord Privy Seal (Baroness Stowell of Beeston) (Con): It is really difficult at this stage, when not all sides have yet had a turn. We are a bit out of practice because we have had a general election, so I remind noble Lords that we should perhaps give way to each other more than we have been doing recently. Maybe we should go to my noble friend Lord Tugendhat and then to the noble Lord, Lord Judd.
Lord Tugendhat: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that it is important that the Government maintain the position that she has just outlined? The way in which we react to what happens in Saudi Arabia is often taken by places such as Russia and China as an example of whether we are willing to be firm with countries with which we are on very good terms as a means of putting pressure on countries with which we are on less good terms.
Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, I agree that we have a consistent stance with regard to human rights. With regard to the death penalty and torture, we say that they are wrong in principle and in practice. We make those views strongly heard both in international fora and in Saudi Arabia itself. The Saudi Arabians are under no illusions about our views on what is proper treatment and what is a proper penal code.
Lord Judd: My Lords, quite apart from the barbaric nature of this sentence, does the noble Baroness not agree that there is a strategic dimension to this situation? Can we not get our Saudi Arabian friends to understand that we are involved in a vital battle for hearts and minds in the world, and that action such as this, which is symbolic of many other attitudes and actions in Saudi Arabia, is not helping to win that battle?
Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, the area is unstable, which is an understatement. We all appreciate the seriousness of events in Syria, Iraq and Yemen. We should appreciate that Saudi Arabia itself feels the threats around it and yet also assists very strongly with regard to our efforts against ISIL. Saudi Arabia is under no illusions about the importance of its actions on security in the region.
The Lord Bishop of St Albans: My Lords, your Lordships’ House will not be unaware of the discrepancy between the attitude to human rights displayed in Saudi Arabia’s public condemnation of the Charlie Hebdo atrocities and this case, where somebody is being punished on the basis of religion. Does the Minister agree that there is a considerable dissonance between the public image that Saudi Arabia is seeking to present and the country’s internal affairs?
Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, I think we have to recognise that the actions of the Saudi Government in these respects have the support of the vast majority of the Saudi population. Against that background, we maintain our view that freedom of religion and belief and freedom of expression are core rights that lead to long-term stability and good governance.
Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords—
Baroness Falkner of Margravine (LD): My Lords—
Lord Singh of Wimbledon (CB): My Lords—
Baroness Stowell of Beeston: My Lords, it is very difficult on these occasions for me to be able to decide, because clearly we are all trying to get in. However, the time is up today. Maybe we should learn from this exercise and we will get better next week.