MoJ confirms deal with barbaric Saudi prison system

Financial incentives mean the UK will continue in this dubious alliance


Yesterday prisons minister Andrew Selous confirmed that the Ministry of Justice would be selling its services to the Saudi Arabian prison system.

Responding to a written query about the future of Just Solutions Internation (JSi), the trading arm of the National Offender Management Service (NOMS), Selous said that JSi would cease to operate due to ‘the need to focus departmental resources on domestic priorities’. However, one project is ‘sufficiently far advanced that the government has decided withdrawing at this late stage would be detrimental to HMG’s wider interests.’

That project is the selling of British prison expertise to the Saudi judicial regime.

To be clear, this is not about helping improve conditions and human rights in these prisons; it is for commercial gain. In August 2014 the MoJ ‘submitted a a £5.9m proposal to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Ministry of Finance to conduct a training needs analysis across all the learning and development programmes within the Saudi Arabian Prison Service’.

As Selous wrote said yesterday, NOMS will be liable for a financial penalty if the bid is now withdrawn, and the bid has now been signed off. He assures us that his department ‘will continue to promote the rule of law, good governance and judicial reform internationally’.

Let’s take a look at the system the MoJ is working with to create ‘good governance’. It is the system which, now famously, sentenced the blogger Raif Badawi to 1,000 lashes for writing, and sentenced his lawyer Waleed Sami Abulkhair to 15 years in prison for his human rights advocacy and peaceful criticism of Badawi’s punishment. It publicly beheaded Layla Bint Abdul Muttalib Basim after dragging her through the streets, while she screamed her innocence.

According to Amnesty, Saudi Arabia executed more than 100 people in the first half of 2015, surpassed only by China and Iran for the dubious title of most prolific executioner. Almost half of the executions in 2014 and until June 2015 were for non-lethal crimes. Some were for ‘apostasy’ and ‘sorcery’. The picture above shows Deera Square in Riyadh, known as ‘chop-chop square’ due to the number of beheadings that have taken place there.

In 2010 a Saudi Court attempted to have a man ‘medically paralysed’ ie. sever his spine as a ‘retribution punishment’, a practice in sharia law which has included eye-gougings and amputations.

Add to this allegations of torture by Human Rights Watch, and the fact that some Saudi prisons have been described as ‘terrorist universities’ and it’s hard to believe that cooperation with the Saudi judicial system can be justified.

It is worth repeating that this ‘needs analysis’ is about financial gain and not about reform. The MoJ wants to use the contract to raise money for prisons in England Wales; but at what cost to the reputation of the British justice system?

Ruby Stockham is a staff writer at Left Foot Forward

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