The British government has condemned as “abhorrent” what it said was the clear torture of a Jordanian national on death row in Saudi Arabia for drug offences, and demanded an end to a sudden spate of executions in the Gulf monarchy.
It was the first time the British government has made the allegation.
After growing pressure to comment on the issue, Foreign Office minister David Rutley told parliament that London had raised Hussein Abo al-Kheir’s case “at the highest level”.
The kingdom had previously given a commitment it would not impose the death penalty for drug offences, but has suddenly resumed executions.
Responding to questions from members of parliament from both his own party and the opposition, Rutley acknowledged that the impending execution did “not sit comfortably with what has previously been said by the Saudi government”.
Kheir, who is represented by the campaign group Reprieve, was moved to a death row cell more than a week ago.
He was arrested in 2014 for smuggling narcotics when crossing the Jordan border into Saudi, and says he only confessed when he was tortured, including being suspended from his feet and beaten on his stomach and legs. A UN working group on arbitrary detention in October said his arrest has been arbitrary, and he should be released immediately.
“We have already expressed our concerns, particularly about Mr al-Kheir’s case, in which clearly torture was used,” Rutley said. “We find that abhorrent.”
Former Conservative cabinet minister David Davis wrote to the UK foreign secretary, James Cleverly, and the Saudi ambassador in the UK last week to ask them to intervene in the case. Davis raised an urgent question in parliament on Monday.
Rutley added: “The Saudi authorities have executed around 150 individuals in 2022, a marked increase on the 67 executions last year. On 12 March 2022, Saudi Arabia executed 81 people in a single day, and the British ambassador raised UK concerns with Saudi authorities at both ministerial and senior official level in Riyadh on 14 March.”