Sunday, April 12, 2015

Copy letter to FCO Minister who deals with Saudi Arabia

Note: As expected, this example shows that letters to FCO Ministers about important human rights issues from several weeks before general election purdah started will not receive substantive answers.

From Lord Avebury                                                                                       P1501032

March 1, 20015

Dear Tobias,

 A new law has been enacted in Saudi Arabia  with effect from February 1, 2015,    The Penal Law for Crimes of Terrorism and its Financing (Royal Decree No. 44 (12/2013).   The effect of it is

a.       To criminalise any conduct that “disturbs public order” (a charge used frequently against dissenters and human rights activists) and anyone aiming to “infringe the interests of the kingdom, or its economy, or its national or social security.” This would cover any criticism of Saudi law, policy or the authorities within or outside Saudi Arabia.

b.       To grant extensive powers to the interior minister, undermining the due process rights of the accused in existing Saudi law. The minister is given power to order arrests of terrorism suspects without going through the public prosecutor, as well as powers to access the suspect’s private banking and communications information, all without any judicial oversight.

c.        To give the Saudi Specialised Criminal Court (SCC) authority to hear witnesses and experts without the presence of the defendant or the defendant’s lawyer.  It does not require the court to inform the defendant or his/her lawyer of the content of the testimony, and  allows the court to convict on evidence that the defendant is incapable of knowing or challenging. 

d.       To list offences that shall apply to anyone, whether of Saudi or foreign nationality, who commits or aids and abets in the commission of an offence described in the law while outside the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia thus allowing those who are concerned about human rights in Saudi Arabia to be convicted in their absence and without knowing the evidence against them. 

e.        To restrict a suspect’s right to access to a lawyer for an undefined time, the period to be determined by the investigating agency.  This would deny access to a lawyer during interrogation in contravention of the provisions of the Saudi criminal procedure law.

f.        To raise the current legal limit on the time officials may hold a suspect in pre-trial detention from 6 months to 12, with power to the SCC to grant an unlimited extension, and increases detention of the terrorist suspect incommunicado from 60 to 90 days from the date of arrest.

Saudi Arabia is at the bottom of the list of countries in the world for observance of human rights (See the global survey of Freedom in the World 2015), below China, Cuba and Russia!  Its record in relation to the Shia minority and human rights activists is atrocious and many have been kept untried for years in Saudi jails. As you know, capital punishment is handed down frequently, and so is flogging, up to 1000 lashes at the rate of 50 a week in public.   

You are probably aware of the case of the British citizen Abdul Hakim Gellani, dob    December 11, 1964, director of a travel agency that specialised in pilgrimages to Mecca.  On November 19, 2005, while on a business visit to Saudi Arabia, Mr Gellani was arrested in Mecca by the Saudi Security Services. Following intervention by the FCO, as well as a law firm contracted by Mr Gellani’s family, the Saudi authorities finally acknowledged his arrest and detention on December 14, 2005.  On December 18, 2005, Mr. Gellani was transferred to Ruwais Prison in Jeddah  and received a welfare visit from the British Consulate the following day, but did not receive a full consular visit until March 12, 2006. He went on a hunger strike protesting his conditions of detention and lack of a fair trial. He was not charged in accordance with the Saudi Law of Criminal Procedure.  He was not brought before a judge until July 19, 2006, when he was released.  He then tried to leave Saudi Arabia and the FCO gave him a new passport, his existing passport having been seized by the Saudi authorities, but the Saudis refused to give him an exit visa.

Following an interview with Al-Jazeera that covered detention conditions in Saudi prisons, Mr Gellani was re-arrested by the Saudi Security Services on August 8, 2007 at Hotel Morjane, his temporary residence in Mecca. The Saudi Arabian Ministry of Foreign Affairs denied Mr Gellani’s detention until September 23, 2007. Subsequently, his family learned that he had been transferred to Ruwais Prison, where he was held incommunicado until October 27, 2007 when he received a visit from the British Consulate, the first since his re-arrest. After that visit, he was allowed regular calls to his family and further consular visits.  

 Mr Gellani was held in solitary confinement and, on several occasions, had to sleep on the floor, without blankets and in a constantly lit cell. He was subjected to severe beatings and humiliation. On other occasions, he was denied the Koran and was handcuffed for several days. Such treatment, together with the fact that Mr Gellani did not know when his detention would end, amounts to torture or inhuman and degrading treatment and represents a grave breach of Mr Gellani’s rights under the Saudi domestic laws and international law.  In neither of his periods of detention was Mr Gellani   charged, and although he was brought before a judge several times, he was told that he could not be heard without a lawyer.

In September 2010, Mr Gellani’s family, with the help of a London-based law firm and the intervention of the FCO, succeeded in obtaining a Saudi lawyer to represent him in court proceedings. However, the lawyer was prevented from appearing in court at Mr Gellani’s last hearing, scheduled for September 26, 2010 as he was arrested on the day of the hearing and detained for three days by the authorities for interrogation. Thus Mr Gellani was not given a fair trial, nor had he proper access to legal counsel, let alone to information regarding the length of, or reasons for,  his continued detention. The matter was considered by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention in late 2010 and they produced an Opinion.   The Opinion was communicated to the Saudi Government on December 28, 2010 but no response was ever received.  Mr Gellani was released over nine months after the Opinion was communicated and no compensation has ever been paid to him.  
 In light of the gross and persistent violations of human rights by Saudi Arabia, and their treatment of UK citizens in particular, it is manifestly inappropriate for the state to be a member of the Human Rights Council, and I would be grateful if you could let me know whether there is any mechanism by which they can be ejected from the Council?
As regards the new law mentioned above, could you please tell 

a.    How the Government will protect British Citizens detained under this new law.
b.     What guidance they intend to give to companies and individuals engaged in trade with Saudi Arabia or conducting business in Saudi Arabia.
c.    What amendments they will make to the travel advice given on the FCO website on the risks visitors to Saudi Arabia may incur under the new law.

Tobias Ellwood Esq MP,

Foreign & Commonwealth Office
London SW1A 2AH.

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