In researching around the Ministry of Justice’s Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Saudis, I came across a curious piece of information.
(ADD, 3rd October 2015: A “Memorandum of Understanding” is a formal agreement, but usually one that is not intended to be contractual binding.)
According to a 2015 Foreign and Commonwealth Office report, the Home Office signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Saudi interior ministry in March 2014:
“In March, the Home Secretary, Theresa May, signed a MoU with her Saudi counterpart to help modernise the Ministry of the Interior, which draws on UK expertise in the wider security and policing arena. This will complement work going on between the College of Policing and a range of Saudi security bodies.”
The remarkable thing is that – other than this mention on the FCO website (and that is in an fairly obscure report) – there appears to be no public mention by the government at all of this document.
It may well be that the FCO mention is a fortuitous-sort-of-accident and that the MoU was never intended to be known about publicly.
But the MoU is an important document: the UK Home Office is formally assisting the police in one of the most repressive regimes in the world.
As this blog has previously set out: the Saudi regime is, without any exaggeration, barbaric. Criminal offences are not defined; there is no recognisable due process for defendants; and the punishments are savage. And this description is not just some hyperbole of a breathless human rights lawyer: it is what the UK embassy in Riyadh itself says in its chilling Information Pack for British Prisoners in Saudi Arabia. On punishments, the guide says:
“Criminal law punishments in Saudi Arabia include public beheading, stoning, amputation and lashings. Serious criminal offences include not only internationally recognized crimes such as murder, rape, theft and robbery, but also apostasy, adultery, witchcraft and sorcery. In addition to the regular police force, Saudi Arabia has a secret police, the Mabahith, and “religious” police, the Mutawa. The Saudi courts impose a number of severe physical punishments. The death penalty can be imposed for a wide range of offences including murder, rape, armed robbery, repeated drug use, apostasy, adultery, witchcraft and sorcery and can be carried out by beheading with a sword, stoning or firing squad, followed by crucifixion.”
That is the regime our Home Office is formally assisting.
But it seems the Home Office do not want you to know about the Memorandum of Understanding whatsoever; it is nowhere on the Home Office site, and so far as I can see, it is not mentioned anywhere else.
(If this is wrong, please add links in the Comments below.)
I asked the Home Office press office about this MoU today, and their answers were as follows:
Q: Can you confirm whether the FCO statement is correct?
A: “The information on the FCO website is accurate.”
Q: Can you confirm whether the Home Office-Saudi MoU is still in force?
A: “The Home Office does have an MoU with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The MoU remains in effect.”
Q: Is it possible to get a general statement on the MoU?
A: “There is nothing to add regarding this MoU beyond the information already available on the Gov.uk website.”
On the last answer, I asked as a follow-on:
The third answer is ambiguous: is there information on the Gov.UK website on the MoU other than at that FCO link? If so, may I have links to that publicly available information?
To which the response was:
A: “…just to be clear; I was referring to the information you have already highlighted.”
– there is a Memorandum of Understanding between the UK Home Office and Saudi Arabia;
– the Memorandum of Understanding covers serious matters;
– the Memorandum of Understanding means UK policing expertise is given so as to assist the police in a notoriously repressive regime; and
– the Memorandum of Understanding remains in force.
But left to the Home Office you would not even know it existed.
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