The Lord Mayor of London failed to raise the case of jailed blogger Raif Badawi when he led a business delegation to Saudi Arabia last month, in what human rights groups described as “yet another example of Britain voluntarily wearing the Saudi muzzle” on the issue.
Alan Yarrow spent 12 days touring the Middle East to bang the drum for British business. He was joined by representatives from the London Stock Exchange, HSBC, Deloitte and numerous investment management firms.
The group visited the Saudi capital, Riyadh, on 19 and 20 January, 10 days after Mr Badawi was publicly flogged outside a mosque. The writer has been sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes for criticising the country’s clerics on his liberal blog, leading to an international outcry.
According to the official report of Mr Yarrow’s trip published by the Foreign Office, the “valuable visit” by the Lord Mayor was to “nurture key relationships” between the UK and Saudi Arabia. At a reception, the governor of Riyadh “welcomed the prospect of closer co-operation and more British companies operating in Saudi Arabia”.
Campaigners have previously criticised the Government for refusing to call for the release of Mr Badawi, accusing ministers of remaining silent on Saudi Arabia’s “abhorrent” human rights record for the sake of diplomacy. Last night they questioned Mr Yarrow’s silence.
Allan Hogarth, the head of policy and government affairs at Amnesty International UK, said: “The Lord Mayor is keen to cry up the supposed benefits to the City of London of doing business in Saudi Arabia, but why didn’t he also speak out about the plight of Raif Badawi? The Foreign Office clearly sees the Lord Mayor’s business delegations to Saudi Arabia as an important way to reinforce the UK’s ‘bilateral relationship’ with King Salman’s government, but there’s very little sign that human rights are even being considered.
“It’s very disappointing that Mr Yarrow chose to keep quiet. It looks like yet another example of Britain wearing the Saudi muzzle rather than offending the rulers.”
Rhian Beynon, a spokeswoman for Freedom from Torture, said: “While the Lord Mayor was being entertained by Saudi officials, Mr Badawi was facing the very real prospect of being just days away from having to endure another 50 lashes – a barbaric punishment. Because of the crucial timing of this trip, it is extremely disappointing that the Government did not use the Lord Mayor’s visit as an opportunity to discuss these vital human rights issues.”
Mr Badawi’s supporters were heartened recently by reports that King Salman, who replaced King Abdullah following his death last month, has revoked floggings for all prisoners in Saudi Arabia who have not committed serious crimes. However, even if the blogger is spared his remaining lashes, he will still have to serve his prison sentence.
The Mayor’s spokesman said Mr Yarrow’s trip was aimed at “strengthening economic ties” rather than addressing “wider diplomatic issues,” adding: “The purpose of the Lord Mayor’s overseas visits is always focused on improving financial and advisory services trade between the City and the host country. His recent trip to Saudi Arabia was no different.
“However, clearly the Lord Mayor echoes the view of [the] Government in condemning any use of cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment in all circumstances.” The Foreign Office declined to comment on the Lord Mayor’s trip.Reuse content