The UK foreign secretary has been accused of “parroting the propaganda” of Britain’s Middle East ally as he refused to condemn the mass execution of 47 people in Saudi Arabia.
When asked whether London should be “more robust” in condemning the Saudi executions, Philip Hammond said: “Let us be clear, first of all, that these people were convicted terrorists.”
Rights campaigners say that at least four of the 47, including the Saudi Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, were arrested and executed in relation to political protests.
Press TV reports: Nimr’s execution is viewed as part of a heavy-handed crackdown on Shia minority living in the country’s Eastern Province.
In 2014, a Saudi court sentenced him to death, provoking widespread global condemnation. The sentence was upheld last March by the appeal court of Saudi Arabia.
Appearing on the BBC’s Today program, Hammond also revealed that he had been aware of the mass execution and had called Riyadh not to go ahead with planned killings.
Maya Foa, head of the death penalty team at Reprieve, accused Hammond of repeating the Saudi crown prince’s line from an interview with the Economist where he described all those killed as “terrorists”.
“By refusing to condemn these executions and parroting the Saudis’ propaganda, labelling those killed as ‘terrorists’, Mr Hammond is coming dangerously close to condoning Saudi Arabia’s approach,” she was quoted as saying by the Independent.
Meanwhile, David Mepham, the UK director of Human Rights Watch, said “British policy on Saudi Arabia has reached a new low”.
“It is appalling that Phillip Hammond refused to condemn the mass beheadings that took place in Saudi on January 2, including the execution of the prominent Shia cleric, Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr. Yet pressed on the case in this morning’s BBC interview, the Foreign Secretary chose not to criticize Saudi executions but rather to contextualize, explain and seemingly excuse them,” he told the Huffington Post.
Back in November Hammond came under fire for accepting a watch worth £1,950 from one of Saudi Arabia’s richest men, despite a ban on British ministers accepting gifts worth more than £140.
The revelation followed after former Liberal Democrat leader Paddy Ashdown accused David Cameron’s conservative government of bowing to oil rich Gulf States on British foreign policy matters.