Abdulaziz Saud

Saudis hit back over UK torture report

TITLE : Saudis hit back over UK torture report
AUTHOR : John Morrison
DATE : Jaunuary 20, 1998

LONDON (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia Tuesday denounced as anti-Islamic a British parliamentary report which accused the kingdom, a key trading partner, of widespread torture and human rights abuses.

Ambassador to Britain Dr. Ghazi Algosaibi, in comments faxed to news media, described the report as ``a rehash of old allegations with no proof or substantiation.''

He said his country would pay no heed to people who hated Islam and its laws, adding, ``Pampering murderers, rapists, terrorists and drug smugglers is not part and parcel of the Islamic doctrine of human rights.''

``I find it sickening that some people find our money very acceptable, but not our culture. We shall not accept lessons on human rights from such people, in public or private,'' the envoy added.

The furious Saudi response followed a promise by a British minister to the House of Lords Monday that the government would study the report in detail and look carefully at its recommendations.

Baroness Elizabeth Symons, a Foreign Office minister, said the government was concerned about the reports of torture and regretted Saudi Arabia's refusal to admit the United Nations rapporteur on torture.

She said the government had already raised the issue of human rights, including torture, with Saudi Arabia on several occasions since it took office in May.

``Of course, there is an important economic relationship with Saudi Arabia, but there are also very important human rights issues at stake,'' she said, describing the subject as one requiring delicate handling.

Saudi Arabia is one of Britain's major trading partners and British businesses in the country have consistently urged London to take a cautious line on human rights lest it harm their prospects.

The report was made public Tuesday by the all-party Parliamentary Human Rights Group and the anti-torture charity group Redress.

Labor Member of Parliament Ann Clywd, launching the report at a news conference in the House of Commons, urged Foreign Secretary Robin Cook to press Saudi Arabia on human rights. ``There is enough evidence in this book to show that torture, mistreatment and degradation of prisoners is alive and active in Saudi Arabia,'' she said.

She referred to the chopping off of hands and feet under Saudi law and to the public execution of at least 100 people in 1997.

``The time for discreet silence is over,'' Clwyd wrote in an introduction to the report which said at least 540 people had been executed since 1990 and flogging sentences were handed down almost daily.

Cook made clear on assuming office last May that he wanted British foreign policy to revolve around human rights but he has consistently dismissed questions put to him about Saudi Arabia's record.

The focus of the Anglo-Saudi business relationship is the al-Yamamah arms-for-oil deal signed in the mid-1980s and worth an estimated $32 billion. Under the 20-year agreement, Britain supplies aircraft built by British Aerospace Plc, which are paid for in oil.

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