James Jones, a British filmmaker who exposed the Gulf state’s human rights abuses in his documentary Saudi Arabia Uncovered, said Britain remains “closer than ever” to its ally despite a litany of human rights abuses.
He said the country’s Sharia-based punishment system including beheadings and the public lashing of a Saudi blogger “wouldn’t feel at all out of place in Isis-controlled Raqqa”.
“There are similarities between Saudi Arabia’s punishments and Isis punishments – Saudi textbooks have turned up in Isis territory,” Mr Jones told The Independent.
“The big difference with Saudi is it’s not an international pariah or terrorist organisation, it’s a close ally of Britain and America. It’s blatant double standard.”
He spoke on the issue at the Geneva Sumit for Human Rights and Democracy, held at the start of the UN Human Rights Council session at Switzerland’s Palais des Nations.
Saudi Arabia has positioned itself as a partner in the US-led coalition’s operations against Isis, which has launched several terror attacks in the country, as well as hosting the training of Syrian rebels to fight jihadis and combating the group’s financing.
But a cache of leaked Isis registration documents revealed Saudis make up the highest number of foreigners in the group's ranks.
The country's counter-terror efforts have also been dogged by persistent comparisons with the so-called Islamic State, which shares parts of its ideology with the fundamentalist Wahhabism promoted by Riyadh.
The ideology has fuelled its mutual animosity with Shia-majority countries including Iran, with the two nations fighting a proxy war across the Middle East and Asia.
One of the fronts is in Yemen, where a Saudi-led air coalition is bombing Iran-backed Houthi rebels in support of President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi’s government.
The UN says more than 10,000 civilians have been killed in the two-year conflict, which has left millions facing starvation and without access to water and healthcare.
Much of the destruction has been blamed on Saudi Arabia’s air campaign, which has seen funerals and homes bombed in indiscriminate raids that may amount to war crimes.
The UK has referred probes into civilian deaths to the Saudi-led coalition’s Joint Incidents Assessment Team (JIAT), which is accused of falling short of international standards of transparency and impartiality.
Mr Jones called for independent investigations into alleged violations, arguing parties in the conflict were “pretty unlikely to accuse themselves of war crimes”.
“I think it’s extraordinary that there’s not more of an outcry over Yemen,” he added, condemning “hypocrisy” by the UK.
The case, stemming from a legal challenge brought by the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT), could halt sales.
Pressure mounted on the Government after Saudi Arabia admitted carrying out an air strike that killed at least 140 people at a funeral hall in Sanaa in October.
Tobias Ellwood, the minister for the Middle East, said he would raise concerns with the Saudi ambassador over the massacre, which he also raised with Yemeni and Saudi leaders in Riyadh.
But Theresa May has repeatedly defended the arms sales in the House of Commons, saying: “What matters is the strength of our relationship with Saudi Arabia.”
A spokesperson for the Foreign Office told The Independent it wanted Saudi Arabia to carry out “thorough and conclusive” investigations into its own alleged breaches of international humanitarian law.
The Government reiterated its support for the Saudi-led coalition “to deter aggression by the Houthi rebels and allow for the return of the legitimate government” in Yemen.
“We operate one of the most robust export control regimes in the world and keep our defence exports to Saudi Arabia under careful and continual review,” the spokesperson added.
“The Government has to take decisions about how best to keep our country safe; a strong relationship with Saudi Arabia helps us to do that. Our collaboration has foiled terrorist attacks, directly saving British lives.”
The Saudi Arabian embassy in London could not be reached for comment.
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies