So, Prince Muhammad, any interesting executions coming up?

We’re in a run of stories that seem to be showcasing the potential for appalling treatment of young women. The alleged Delhi gang rape case. The alleged serial rape of a 15-year-old girl by her step-father in the Maldives.

And, yesterday, the beheading of a young Sri Lankan domestic worker in Saudi Arabia.

Each of the cases involves serious failures from the authorities - much-reported-on police failings in India, the Maldivian teenager herself facing a flogging for “fornication”, and the Sri Lankan maid being beheaded after what seems to have been a catalogue of human rights violations.

To take just the last of these horror stories - here we have an almost “classic” instance of Saudi Arabia’s capacity to subject people to injustice and impose a cruel punishment. Rizana Nafeek was executed despite evidence that she was below the age of 18 at the time of the alleged crime, making her execution clearly illegal under international law. In addition, she had no lawyer at her pre-trial interrogation or her trial, and was allegedly coerced into making a false confession.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz ignored an appeal for clemency from Sri Lankan’s President Mahinda Rajapaksa (Sri Lanka’s parliament reportedly held a minute’s silence yesterday after news of her death came through). A statement on Sri Lanka’s Ministry of External Affairs website said that President Rajapaksa and the Sri Lankan government “deplored” her beheading.

And so they should. Which leads to the curious fact that the UK government remained silent about the case all of yesterday, despite news coming through early in the afternoon. (When I drafted this post at lunchtime today there was still no sign of a UK government response, but one has - this afternoon - been posted by Alistair Burt). This delayed response is especially curious given that Saudi Arabia’s Interior Minister, Prince Muhammad bin Naif bin Abdul Aziz, was actually in Britain yesterday (the very day of Rizana’s execution), having met UK officials only a day earlier on Tuesday. And, lest we forget, it was Prince Muhammad bin-Naif’s own government department - the Interior Ministry - that was responsible for carrying out Rizana’s horrible punishment.

I can only suppose that at quiet, behind-closed-doors meetings with hardliners like Prince Muhammad, our ministers stick to “safe topics” - like cooperation on anti-terrorism measures, regional security (for which read “arms deals”), and the threat posed by Iran. They don’t, I imagine, drop in a question about whether the country has “any interesting executions coming up”.

On this occasion the UK should take advantage of recent contact with Saudi Arabia’s Interior Minister by demanding a full explanation over this outrageous execution. It should also point out that the country’s ongoing crackdown on peaceful protesters - figures like the former judge Dr Suliaman al-Rashudi, or women and children protesting against their relatives' incarceration - are totally unacceptable.

Less safe topics, more outrage.

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