Raif Badawi -- the Saudi blogger arrested for running a website that "propagates liberal thought" -- has had his punishment confirmed:10,000 lashes, 10 years' imprisonment and a fine of one million rial.
Asked about the case in the House of Lords last week, Foreign Office Minister Baroness Anelay said that the UK government stands by "freedom of religion and belief and freedom of expression". But, she said, "we have to recognize that the actions of the Saudi government in these respects have the support of the vast majority of the Saudi population."
Jaw-dropping as that statement may be, the Saudi regime has a lot of other support when it comes to its cruelty.
The All-party Parliamentary Human Rights Group and the human rights organization Redress have a timely report on the fate of people in custody in Saudi Arabia. The report says detainees can be held indefinitely in insect-infested cells and denied all access to family, lawyers or diplomats while they are mercilessly subjected to fierce beatings, electric shocks and sexual assaults.
The report on torture in Saudi Arabia is timely. It was published 16 years ago. I remember it, because I edited it. The key point of the report was not simply the brutality of the Saudi torturers, but the fact that the British Government consistently failed to protect it own citizens when they fell into the hands of the Saudi political and religious police.
The report said there was "disturbing evidence that the UK has consistently failed to protect and assist its nationals adequately when they become victims of torture in Saudi Arabia and may even have acquiesced in providing the regime with the instruments it uses to commit torture."
The UK is not alone in abandoning its nationals. The report cited evidence from individuals and governments in more than a dozen countries.
It said that detained British citizens and other foreigners faced torture in hundreds of detention centres in Saudi Arabia, but in the vast majority of cases their governments did not protect them or protest against their torture.
Why is the Union Jack at half mast?
How can this be? Think back to the morning when we woke up in January this year and asked "Why is the Union Jack at half mast?" We soon found out. "Britain Mourns a Tyrant"read the headline on The Independent newspaper, announcing the death of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia.
The Queen said the dead king would "be long remembered by all who work for peace and understanding".
She sent Prince Charles to pay her respects. It was his 13th visit to Saudi Arabia since 1986, putting it among the top seven countries he has visited most.
I asked myself what has happened in the 16 years since the All-Party and Redress report documented the betrayal of UK and other foreign nationals at the hands of Saudi torturers. I went onto the website of the Campaign Against the Arms Trade to see if it was still "business as usual". Here is what they have to say:
For the last fourteen years, sales to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, a country with an indigenous population of only 12.6 million, have been the mainstay of the UK's arms trade. From 1992-94 the UK's arms sales to Saudi Arabia were 75 per cent of its total arms exports (House of Commons Defence Committee, 1999). These surprising figures are the result of the Al Yamamah deals, the huge UK arms sales initiated in 1986 and 1988 . . . These deals require analysis and questioning because of the vast amounts of money and weaponry involved and because so little information about the transactions is available. "Staggering in [their] sheer size and complexity", the sales to Saudi Arabia have had significant impact on the UK arms industry, successive UK governments, the armament of the Middle East, and the kingdom itself (Financial Times, 9.7.1988).
It might be tempting to conclude that nothing has changed and that Saif Badawi will be abandoned to his fate.
Independent, untamable and unstoppable
But there is something on our side that we didn't have 16 years ago. It is something that Saif Badawi himself is part of. It's the utterly independent, untamable and unstoppable force of people communicating with each other across the global web. The bloggers, the tweeters and rest of the more than three billion human beings estimated to use the internet worldwide have become a force to be reckoned with. It's probably the force that governments fear most. And it's a force that is not going to give up on Raif Badawi.
If you want to be part of this vast movement, you could do no better than add your name to the Amnesty International Campaign to free him which is already close to one and a half million signatures.