SNP's Stewart McDonald highlights the case of jailed Saudi blogger Raif Badawi
SNP MP Stewart McDonald has been told the Government would be “delighted” to issue a request to Saudi Arabia for a non-governmental organisation (NGO) representative to visit imprisoned blogger Raif Badawi.
Foreign and Commonwealth Office minister Tobias Ellwood’s comments came as McDonald raised the case of the Saudi writer and father-of-three during a Westminster Hall debate on human rights in Saudi Arabia.
The Glasgow South MP said Mr Badawi was currently imprisoned following a "brutal and medieval" sentence of ten years and 1,000 lashes for "daring to speak out" for secular liberalism.
He described Mr Badawi's crime as "no crime at all", adding he had been served the "slowest and most barbaric death sentence".
Mr McDonald said he wanted to give Mr Badawi "some hope that there are people in this country and across the world who are working to ensure his freedom".
He called for the British ambassador in Riyadh to request a visit to Mr Badawi's prison to report on his mental and physical state and conditions and urged the Government to state Mr Badawi should be set free as a prisoner of conscience.
Mr McDonald warned Britain not to become complacent, adding he had seen "no evidence whatsoever" that the Government was taking Mr Badawi's case seriously.
Addressing the wider human rights issue, he said: "We need to ask ourselves at what point do we start to look complicit by our own meekness, by our own ability to somehow turn a blind eye in all of this."
Labour leadership contender Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North) said the case of Mr Badawi highlighted "just how bad" the situation on human rights was in Saudi Arabia, but it was not the only case.
Mr Ellwood said the Government "strongly condemns" the sentence passed, but added that "we have to honour their judicial process".
He said: "This is in the Supreme Court, it is under review and therefore we can't actually interfere with that process in the same way that they wouldn't interfere with ours."
He added: "Once the process has been completed then we can then take stock and make comment on that process itself but we have to careful that we do not interfere with that process."
Mr Ellwood said it would be "inappropriate" to advocate the UK ambassador in Riyadh to request a visit to Mr Badawi's prison, but added that "it would be in a better position for an NGO to make that judgement".
Mr McDonald intervened to query if the minister would ask the Saudi Government if it would be possible for Amnesty International to visit Mr Badawi.
Mr Ellwood replied: "Absolutely, we can certainly put that forward and be delighted to make that request."
The UK and Saudi Arabia, he added, had a long history of friendship, understanding and cooperation, rooted in defence, security, trade and investment.
He added: "Our friendship with Saudi Arabia affords frank and open dialogue and we continue to use our close relationship to ensure that the incremental process we are seeing is only the beginning." ends
Amnesty International UK government and political relations manager Lucy Wake welcomed Mr Ellwood's comments but expressed concern over Saudi Arabia's human rights record.
She said: "Mr Ellwood's offer to help arrange an Amnesty visit to Raif Badawi is of course welcome, and naturally we'd also want to visit other prisoners as part of a wider visit to the country.
"However, ahead of any Amnesty visit, we don't see why the UK's ambassador to Saudi Arabia can't also go to see Raif in Jeddah.
"Meanwhile, it's worrying that Mr Ellwood appears to be downplaying the gravity of the situation for Raif Badawi - Saudi Arabia's Supreme Court has already upheld his sentence and Mr Badawi is at acute risk of being flogged again at any time.
"It's also unclear to us what Mr Ellwood means by an 'incremental process' supposedly happening in Saudi Arabia. All that's happening incrementally is a rising number of prisoners of conscience being jailed and a mounting death toll from public beheadings."