Besides sign petitions and click “like” next to articles that describe conditions that must be changed in the world, there is not much that one can do or give in a material sense to aide the pursuit of transparency and justice. Every so often, the opportunity arises, however.
For any readers of this web site who live in the United Kingdom, you can help affect change in your nation’s policies, today. The rest of us can help, as well. The United Kingdom’s Ministry of Justice has an outstanding £5.9m bid on a contract to provide prison expertise, “training needs analysis,” to Saudi Arabia. According to news reports, the previous Minister of Justice, Chris Grayling, set up a wing of the department that would sell its knowledge about prisons and prisoner management to those who want to pay for the know-how. It was called Just Solutions, or JSi. The current justice minister, Michael Gove, shuttered the program and stated that the department needs to maintain its focus on domestic issues. (I am combining news sources here: The Guardian, Financial Times, International Business Times.)
This is a contract to provide expertise to another nation’s internal, domestic criminal justice system, one that uses capital punishment, unlike the United Kingdom, which does not have capital punishment. Not only does Saudi Arabia use capital punishment, it uses beheading as its method, performs the punishment in public, and kills for crimes that most Western nations do not consider crimes: sorcery, apostasy (not believing in the correct deity), adultery. It also employs corporal punishment, something very few nations, including the United States, do not use. It flogs its citizens for reasons that include writing things its regime does not approve of.
The Ministry of Justice said all the right things, about how it would have a positive, even liberalizing, effect on the Saudi justice system, but it made no claims as to how this might take place. (Freedom of information requests have been denied to this date, and not all the details of the proposed contract are available.)
When the advice-selling section was closed this year, the Ministry of Justice at first claimed that the contract process with Saudi Arabia was so far along that it would be financially damaging for the United Kingdom (£5.9m? really?) to pull out now but then deleted any such claims from the official record. It continued to insist that the contract must go forward, however.
Thus, the official reason for the contract going forward is that it exists.
Jeremy Corbyn, the new leader of the Labour Party, raised this issue in his debut speech as leader on September 29, and he did so by talking about Ali Mohammed al-Nimr, the 20-year-old who faces beheading and then a crucifixion for protest, possibly as soon as tomorrow.
Corbyn said, “So for my first message to David Cameron, I say to him now a little message from our conference, I hope he’s listening—you never know: Intervene now personally with the Saudi Arabian regime to stop the beheading and crucifixion of Ali Mohammed al-Nimr, who is threatened with the death penalty, for taking part in a demonstration at the age of 17. And while you’re about it, terminate that bid made by our Ministry of Justice’s to provide services for Saudi Arabia—which would be required to carry out the sentence that would be put down on Ali Mohammed al-Nimr. We have to be very clear about what we stand for in human rights.” Here is a video of the moment:
In this country, there are 21 individuals actively campaigning for the job of President of the United States. (It only seems like more.) A handful have spoken out about human rights in the way it is most pertinent in my country: as regards the ongoing denial of human rights, most especially for black and brown individuals, in our abusive justice system. This is vital and important. But I well know that it is possible that not one vote will be earned by a candidate in 2016 because he or she spoke about international human rights or risked criticizing one of our “staunchest” allies, Saudi Arabia.
This is in part because our nations’ two economies are thoroughly entwined, and it is also in part because it is difficult even for those of us who are opposed to capital punishment to criticize another nation for having capital punishment. We employ capital punishment in this nation. (Almost every Twitter troll who has criticized this web site for writing about Raif Badawi or Ali Mohammad al-Nimr has written to “encourage” me to look at my own country.)
The United States and Saudi Arabia are two of the 36 nations that remain with capital punishment available as an official legal remedy. Saudi Arabia is one of the few that executes its convicts in public, and it is one of the very few that executes juvenile offenders, which Ali Mohammad al-Nimr certainly is. This contravenes international agreements that defend the rights of children, agreements Saudi Arabia signed. The United States poisons those who have been convicted of murder, treason, or terrorism and have been sentenced to die. Saudi Arabia beheads its prisoners, but in that nation, convictions of adultery, sodomy, drug trafficking, apostasy, and sorcery are punishable by beheading. Further, the nation has an instituted practice of crucifying the already dead body and displaying it in public.
The United Kingdom abolished capital punishment for murder in 1964 and abolished it completely in 1998.
This is why Jeremy Corbyn’s words are so important. He is a national leader. Plus, his nation actually has a tangible object, a multi-million-pound contract, that it can break and declare that the potential beheading of a juvenile is a reason or even the reason for breaking it. This is 5.9 million more arguments than the United States is willing to use.
You can help put some weight behind Corbyn’s statement. The Gulf Center for Human Rights, a Beirut-based nongovernmental organization that is “dedicated to protecting and supporting human rights defenders in the Gulf region,” launched a legal challenge in June to force the Ministry of Justice to abandon that £5.9m contract bid with Saudi Arabia.
Last week, the court in which it started the process ruled that the suit has merit, that it raises “a significant issue which the public interest requires should be resolved.” It allowed the case to move forward. However, in the British legal system, if one entity sues another and then loses, the loser pays the legal fees of the party it sued, which in this case would be the Ministry of Justice itself. As a part of allowing the case to move forward, the judge set a maximum for this possible outcome: £10,000, which the Gulf Center reports is twice what it can afford. It is raising money to fund this so that it can move forward.
A week remains for the fundraiser. Pete Radcliff, a member of the Labour Party in Nottingham, made me aware this morning of the fundraiser, and I am grateful to him for it. There is a GoFundMe account for donations: Stop UK support to Saudi prisons.
You might help stop beheadings.
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