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Saudi Arabia/Oman: GCHR launches High Court challenge to UK government’s silence on Saudi deal

2015-06-29

The Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) is today launching a High Court challenge to the decision by the United Kingdom’s Ministry of Justice to sell prison and probation services to Gulf states. It has transpired that a commercial entity, Just Solutions (JSi), operating within the auspices of the Ministry of Justice, has submitted a £5.9 million proposal to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and likewise a large scale bid to the Sultanate of Oman for assistance with the design of a new prison.

Both countries have notorious human rights records, with scores of people being arbitrarily detained, imprisoned and tortured. There is currently an international outcry demanding the release of the Saudi blogger, Raif Badawi, who was sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes for discussing liberal ideas. The Sultanate of Oman has been criticised in the latest session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva in June for creating a “pervasive culture of silence and fear affecting anyone who wants to speak and work for reforms in Oman.”

After the bids came to light, the Minister for Justice claimed that providing these services would improve human rights standards, despite the fact that the deals have been done without any statutory framework and without parliamentary consultation and scrutiny. A number of Freedom of Information applications have been made in relation to the schemes but all have been rejected to date.

Melanie Gingell, a member of GCHR’s advisory board, stated: “It seems to us that far from improving human rights standards in the detention systems of these undemocratic states, the UK is more likely to be simply improving the efficiency of the systems within which these notorious abuses are being carried out. The British public has been horrified by the public beheadings and floggings carried out in Saudi Arabia, and now mirrored by ISIS, and they have a right to know exactly what role the UK government is playing in these systems.”

She added, “We fear that the driving motivation behind these bids is purely commercial, and the veil of secrecy that has been drawn over them simply serves to deepen our concerns that the UK is making money out of the worst aspects of these states, that it condemns in public, but is happy to give support to in private.” 

Deighton Pierce Glynn Solicitors (DPG) are acting for GCHR. Adam Hundt, a partner at DPG, stated: “It is surprising that JSi’s activities have taken place shrouded in secrecy, and without parliamentary debate or approval.  If the UK is to sell its public services to states that behead people for sorcery, stone women to death and flog people for expressing pro-democracy views, then one would expect our Parliament to be consulted and given the opportunity to impose appropriate parameters on such activities.”

For more information:

Interviews are available in English. Please contact Melanie Gingell on Mobile: +44(0)7572430903, email, m.gingell@doughtystreet.co.uk  . Adam Hundt on tel: +44 (0)1173323598, or Mobile: +44(0) 7740107479, email: ahundt@dpglaw.co.uk. In Arabic please e-mail Media Team, GCHR’s Media and Communications Officer, at: media@gc4hr.org

GCHR is fundraising to cover the costs of this application. See the site here: http://www.gofundme.com/saudiprisons

  1. See video and report on Saudi prison conditions http://observers.france24.com/content/20120201-leaked-images-overcrowding-saudi-arabian-prisons-mobile-phone-video-jail-jeddah-khoudar-hygiene-crowded-health
  2. See report that revealed the deal - https://davidhencke.wordpress.com/2015/01/16/ministry-of-justiceflogging-prison-expertise-to-saudi-beheaders-and-floggers/
  3. Links to the “Guardian" and independent articles on the deal: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/pressure-mounts-on-chris-grayling-to-abandon-saudi-arabia-prison-contract-10003940.html ; http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jan/25/ministry-justice-contract-saudi-arabia-prison
  4. See here for Raif Badawi campaign page https://freeraifbadawi.wordpress.com/
  5. The Gulf Centre for Human Rights is an independent, non-profit and non-governmental organisation that works to provide support and protection to human rights defenders (including independent journalists, bloggers, lawyers, etc.) in the Gulf region and neighbouring countries by promoting freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly. http://www.gc4hr.org/
  6. Deighton Pierce Glynn Solicitors are a law firm based in London and Bristol dedicated to civil rights, public interest litigation and social welfare. This includes expertise in judicial review and international human rights. http://www.deightonpierceglynn.co.uk/