Saudi Arabia: Raif Badawi — Question

– in the House of Lords at 11:29 am on 11th June 2015.

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Photo of Lord Avebury Lord Avebury Liberal Democrat 11:29 am, 11th June 2015

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.

Photo of Baroness Anelay of St Johns Baroness Anelay of St Johns Minister of State

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.

Photo of Lord Avebury Lord Avebury Liberal Democrat

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?

Photo of Baroness Anelay of St Johns Baroness Anelay of St Johns Minister of State

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.

Photo of Lord Alton of Liverpool Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench

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?

Photo of Baroness Anelay of St Johns Baroness Anelay of St Johns Minister of State

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”—[Hansard, Commons, 9/6/15; col. 1042.], and he hopes that nothing of that nature happens at all.

Photo of Lord Judd Lord Judd Labour

My Lords—

Photo of Baroness Stowell of Beeston Baroness Stowell of Beeston Leader of the House of Lords and Lord Privy Seal

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.

Photo of Lord Tugendhat Lord Tugendhat Conservative

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.

Photo of Baroness Anelay of St Johns Baroness Anelay of St Johns Minister of State

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.

Photo of Lord Judd Lord Judd Labour

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?

Photo of Baroness Anelay of St Johns Baroness Anelay of St Johns Minister of State

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.

Photo of The Bishop of St Albans The Bishop of St Albans Bishop

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?

Photo of Baroness Anelay of St Johns Baroness Anelay of St Johns Minister of State

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.

Photo of Baroness Stowell of Beeston Baroness Stowell of Beeston Leader of the House of Lords and Lord Privy Seal

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.