Britain’s College of Policing is teaching the Saudi Arabian interior ministry high-tech forensic skills that risk being “used to identify individuals who later go on to be tortured”, an internal police report obtained by human rights charity Reprieve reveals.
According to the document, released under Freedom of Information, the controversial training program began in 2009 and continued even after juvenile protesters were rounded up, tortured and sentenced to death following the Arab Spring uprisings.
British police now want to step up their training package to include advanced cyber-crime courses, which could be misused to target pro-democracy activists in Saudi Arabia.
Although the UK Foreign Office opposes the death penalty, the College of Policing wants to teach Saudi officers how to analyse mobile phone records, which could lead to activists being arrested and executed.
Ali al-Nimr was just 17 years old when he was sentenced to death for attending non-violent protests in 2012 and allegedly using his blackberry phone to invite friends to join demonstrations. At trial the prosecution requested execution by “crucifixion”.
Many more juvenile protesters were swept up and tortured in the 2012 crackdown, including Dawood al Marhoon and Abdullah Hasan al-Zaher, who now face beheading at any time. Another teenage activist, Ali al Ribh, who was arrested at school, was among 47 people executed on a single day in January 2016.
That same month, the College of Policing proposed further courses for Saudi personnel despite noting that there was a risk “the skills being trained are used to identify individuals who later go on to be tortured or subjected to other human rights abuses”.
Other techniques on sale to Saudi detectives include decrypting hard drives, retrieving deleted files, voice recognition and trawling CCTV systems. The project is described as an “income generating business opportunity” for the College of Policing.
Some of the training has taken place at the College of Policing’s forensics centre outside Durham, and “over 120 fingerprint personnel are in the process of being trained”.
The document says that the Saudi officers are drawn from the gulf kingdom’s 300,000 strong interior ministry, which includes policemen, prison guards and national security staff.
The college claims to have developed a “trusted and professional partnership” with the ministry, which carries out beheadings, stoning and lashings. David Cameron faced outcry in Parliament last year over a Ministry of Justice project with Saudi prison guards.
Commenting, Maya Foa, Director of the death penalty team at Reprieve said: “It is scandalous that British police are training Saudi Arabian officers in techniques which they privately admit could lead to people being arrested, tortured and sentenced to death.”
“The training Britain delivered included hi-tech skills that could easily have been used to target pro-democracy activists in Saudi Arabia. Let’s not forget that while this was going on, teenage protestors like Ali al-Ribh, Abdullah al-Zaher, Ali al-Nimr, and Dawood al-Marhoon were rounded up and sentenced to death.”
“The FCO has to explain how on earth helping execute juvenile protesters makes anyone safer in Saudi Arabia or the UK.”