Boris Johnson urged to cancel 'oil plea' trip to Saudi Arabia following mass executions

Boris Johnson urged to cancel 'oil plea' trip to Saudi Arabia following mass executions
4 min read
15 March, 2022
Boris Johnson has been told by British MPs to reconsider his trip to Saudi Arabia, following the execution of 81 people.
Boris Johnson is expected to urge Saudi Arabia to increase oil production [Getty]

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been urged to cancel his planned trip to Saudi Arabia and end plans for a trade deal with Riyadh, after the Gulf nation executed 81 people in a single day. 

Johnson is due to travel to Saudi Arabia on Tuesday evening, where he will reportedly hold meetings with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS), de-facto ruler of the kingdom. 

The PM is expected to ask MbS to increase Saudi Arabia's oil and gas output in light of Russia's invasion of Ukraine amid fears of a major shortfall in supplies in Europe and the UK. 

British MPs have urged Johnson to rethink his planned trip following the recent execution of 81 men in Saudi Arabia. 

At a parliamentary debate on Monday, Conservative MP Crispin Blunt described the executions as: "A new low for human rights and criminal justice in the kingdom, coming only a week after the Crown Prince had promised to modernise the Saudi justice system"

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Liberal Democrat MP Alistair Carmichael asked Johnson to consider what sort of a message the trip would send to the Saudi leadership. 

"If the Prime Minister goes in the next few days to Saudi Arabia, we will be sending a very clear signal that no matter what we say, we're not really bothered about this sort of thing," said the MP for Orkney and Shetland.

Responding to the criticism, Foreign Office Minister Amanda Milling said Johnson's visit to Riyadh would be an opportunity for the government to raise the issue of human rights with Saudi Arabia. 

"Given our relationship with Saudi Arabia, we are able to have those frank conversations about human rights. We are opposed to the death penalty in all countries under all circumstances," said Milling.

Conservative MP Julian Lewis warned the UK government not to become too reliant on Saudi energy as other countries in Europe have with Russian oil and gas. 

Lewis said: "In seeking to lessen our dependence upon one source of oil and gas, we [should] not end up creating a source dependency on another unreliable and sometimes hostile regime."

Human rights group Amnesty International UK also condemned the trip.

"The shocking news about mass executions in Saudi Arabia makes it more important than ever that the Prime Minister challenges the Saudi authorities over their absolutely appalling human rights record and that he speaks publicly about human rights during this trip," Polly Truscott, Amnesty International UK's foreign affairs human rights adviser said.

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While the campaign group Reprieve accused the British Prime Minister of trading lives. 

“Boris Johnson is trading oil for blood,” Soraya Bauwens, deputy director of campaign group Reprieve told The Independent.

“Despite the Saudi Government's claims that these executions related to terrorism charges, nearly three quarters of these 81 men were executed for non-lethal offences,” Bauwens added.

On Saturday, Saudi Arabia executed 81 people on a variety of terrorism-related offences, with Saudi state media claiming that some of the men were members of he Islamic State group, or to Al-Qaeda, Yemen's Houthi rebel forces or "other terrorist organisations".

These claims have been questioned by Bauwens, who said that some of those executed were "pro-democracy protesters, tortured into false confessions, whose real 'crime' was challenging the status quo".

The Gulf state exceeded the number of people executed by the state throughout all of 2021 in a single day.

So far, the Saudi state has executed 92 people this year. 

Amnesty International said that the mass execution was a signal of "an appalling escalation in Saudi Arabia’s use of the death penalty".

"Such a shocking number of deaths also reveals Saudi Arabia’s lack of transparency in death penalty cases since we know that the number of trials resulting in prisoners being placed on death row is always significantly higher than what is publicly reported," Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa said. 

Amnesty International called on Saudi Arabia to end the use of the death penalty and "establish an official moratorium on all executions and initiate legislation that would totally abolish the death penalty for all crimes".