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Jonathan Fenton-Harvey

Theresa May urged to withdraw Saudi crown prince's invitation to visit Britain

May has come under fire for her relationship with the Saudi regime [Anadolu]

Date of publication: 18 January, 2018

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Rights groups argue that cancelling Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's visit to the UK will pressure the Riyadh regime to ease its choke-hold on human rights, reports Jonathan Fenton-Harvey.

Theresa May has been urged to withdraw her invitation for Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince's visit to Britain over the kingdom's human rights violations.

The visit, announced in December, is due in the coming weeks, though the exact date has not yet been made public.

However, due to Saudi Arabia's repressive policies against its citizens, and its bombing campaign in Yemen which created "the world's worst humanitarian disaster for 50 years" according to a senior UN official, several NGOs focusing on human rights in the Middle East signed a declaration on Tuesday asking the prime minister to cancel the visit.

"This visit will be regarded as an uncritical endorsement of the crown prince and the atrocities that his regime has inflicted on Yemen," Andrew Smith, media spokesperson for the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT), told The New Arab.

"If Theresa May wants to do the right thing for those living under repression in Saudi, and those being bombed in Yemen, then she must cancel the visit and finally stop the arms sales."

Cancelling Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's visit would pressure the regime to reassess its policies, the groups argue



The letter was signed by the Arab Organization for Human Rights in the UK (AOHR UK), Bahrain Institute for Human Rights, Bahrain Opposition Block, Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT), Human Rights for Yemen, Iraqi Democrats, Sheba for Democracy and Human Rights, and Stop the War Coalition.

Cancelling Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's visit would pressure the regime to reassess its policies, the groups argue.

"The undersigned organisations and individuals urge the prime minister Theresa May to withdraw the invitation to Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman of Saudi Arabia to visit Britain," the letter read.

"Bin Salman is the second most senior member of the Saudi regime, which has one of the worst human rights records in the world. Torture, arbitrary detention, and other appalling abuses are widely documented. In 2017 alone, Saudi authorities executed over 100 people."

It also highlighted Bin Salman's oversight of the Yemen War, which has killed and injured tens of thousands of Yemenis. The letter addresses Saudi Arabia's role in supporting Bahrain's violent repression of peaceful protesters in 2011 - which still continues - as well as the establishment of a stringent blockade on Qatar, and Riyadh's holding of the Lebanese prime minister in custody.

The letter claimed these moves have all been a bid to impose its sovereignty on other nations.

"It shames us as a nation to support and associate with a brutal dictator who uses hunger as a weapon, and has allowed the largest cholera epidemic in history to develop in Yemen. The interests of the people of Britain, and the peoples suffering from the crown prince's adventurism, are not served by this visit. The invitation must be withdrawn," the letter concluded.

Theresa May's invitation to Prince Salman is a demonstration of how the UK government considers the continuation of international arms trading to take priority over the safety of innocent civilians in Yemen



Alongside showing tolerance to the Saudi regime and its actions, the UK government continues to militarily support the kingdom, selling billions of dollars of arms to Saudi Arabia since it began its aerial assault on Yemen in March 2015.

"The timing of this invitation from Theresa May coincides with an increase in Saudi attacks on Yemen - and yet Theresa May has chosen to invite one of the main perpetrators behind these crimes," Lily Chamberlain, research and advocacy associate for the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy, which signed the letter, told The New Arab.

"Theresa May's invitation to Prince Salman is a demonstration of how the UK government considers the continuation of international arms trading to take priority over the safety of innocent civilians in Yemen.

"We urge the prime minister not to forget the atrocities for which Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is responsible," she added.

Mohammed bin Salman led an "anti-corruption" crackdown in November, arresting dozens of Saudi royal figures, ministers, businessmen and intellectuals. It was seen by many as an attempt to bolster his own power.

The kingdom is often criticised by human rights organisations for its treatment of women, dissidents and migrant workers.

Declaring his support for cancelling the visit, Mohamed Jamil, director of Arab Organisation for Human Rights (AOHR), told The New Arab: "The Saudi state is historically known for its human rights abuses. The extended relations with the United Kingdom have helped to persist in these violations because relations between the two states are built on interests."

Jamil also said Britain's tolerance of the Saudi regime encourages its various human rights violations to continue, and therefore urges it to withdraw the invitation to make a difference.

"We believe that cancelling the visit because of human rights violations will have a big impact on the behaviour of the regime in Saudi Arabia, but can Theresa do it?"

Jonathan Fenton-Harvey is a freelance journalist.

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