Charity attacks 'scandalous' police training deal with Saudi Arabia


British police are teaching Saudi Arabian officers skills that could lead to the torture and execution of pro-democracy activists, a charity has warned.

Personnel from the Arab kingdom's interior ministry have been trained in detective work and high-tech forensics as a money-maker for the College of Policing, according to Reprieve who branded the programme "scandalous".

The anti-death penalty campaigners said an internal document showed the long-running partnership had continued despite a brutal crackdown by the regime following the 2011 Arab Spring that led to the torture of dozens of young protesters who were sentenced to death.

One teenage demonstrator was among 47 people executed on a single day in January this year. A 17-year-old sentenced to death after attending a non-violent protest now faces being beheaded alongside several others.

The report showed college bosses recognised 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" and predicted an outcry over the arrangement, Reprieve said.

Despite the risks the college was considering expanding its training programme, which began in 2009, to include advanced cyber crime techniques, the charity said.

Maya Foa, director of the Reprieve death penalty team, called on the Foreign Office to justify the sharing of British know-how with the regime.

"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," she said.

"The training Britain delivered included hi-tech skills that could easily have been used to target pro-democracy activists in Saudi Arabia."

The Foreign Office said the British expertise was being used to improve the Saudi justice system, including human rights compliance, rehabilitation for abuse victims and legal aid.

Advanced training in forensics was being used to ensure accurate evidence gathering, it said.

A spokeswoman said: "It is not good enough to merely criticise other countries from the sidelines.

"Only by working with Saudi Arabia are we able to bring about the changes we would like to see in the country."

Reprieve said UK involvement with the Saudi interior ministry was at odds with the Government's official stance to oppose the death penalty.

Using Freedom of Information laws it obtained an internal report that described a "trusted and professional partnership" and contained proposals for future collaboration.

The partnership was an "income generating business opportunity", the report said.

According to the charity, candidates are drawn from the 300,000 officers working in the Saudi interior ministry, including policemen, prison guards and national security staff, some of whom have attended courses at a centre in County Durham.