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UK minister in Saudi Arabia for trade talks on same day as execution

Ranil Jayawardena met Gulf Cooperation Council secretary-general in Riyadh as authorities announced death of Mustafa Hashem al-Darwish
British trade minister Ranil Jayawardena (L) met with GCC Secretary-General Nayef Falah Mubarak al-Hajraf (R) in Riyadh on Tuesday (Kuwait News Agency)

The execution in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday of a man convicted of protesting against the government when he was 17 years old took place on the same day as a British government minister's visit to the kingdom for trade talks.

Ranil Jayawardena, the British minister for international trade, met with Nayef Falah Mubarak al-Hajraf, the secretary-general of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), in the Saudi capital.

Jayawardena's meeting with Hajraf took place as the Saudi interior ministry announced the execution of Mustafa Hashem al-Darwish, a 26-year-old who was sentenced to death on charges linked to his participation as a teenager in anti-government protests in the Eastern Province.

Saudi Arabia executes man arrested for protesting as a teenager
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Human rights groups and activists say that Darwish was subjected to prolonged pre-trial detention and torture. He subsequently retracted a confession which he said was extracted under duress.

Last week, Darwish's relatives urged Dominic Raab, the British foreign secretary, to raise the case during his own visit to the kingdom to meet Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Speaking after Darwish's execution was announced, Maya Foa, director of Reprieve, criticised Raab for having failed to do so. 

"It is not enough for Saudi Arabia’s partners to ‘raise human rights issues', as British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab reportedly did on his recent visit to the Kingdom," said Foa.

"They need to raise specific cases, and make clear that executions for childhood crimes will not be tolerated. Otherwise, Abdullah al-Howaiti, arrested aged 14 and sentenced to death at 17, could be next.”

Trade deals

Jayawardena's meeting with Hajraf, a former Kuwaiti government minister, comes as the UK seeks to secure trade deals around the world following its departure from the European Union.

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Writing on Twitter, Jayawardena said: "Good to meet GCC Secretary-General HE Dr Nayef Falah M Al-Hajraf today.

"Thanks to the GCC for their input into our Joint Trade and Investment Review.

"Together, we will strengthen trade relationships with all GCC countries even further.

Hajraf “stressed the importance of the GCC-British relations and the promotion of the economic and trade cooperation”, according to the Saudi Press Agency.

The GCC consists of six Gulf states: Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Middle East Eye asked the Department for International Trade for comment about Jayawardena's visit but was sent a statement by the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office.

It reiterated that Raab had raised human rights concerns during his visit and said the British embassy in Riyadh had raised concern over the treatment of Darwish last week with Saudi Arabia's Human Rights Commission.

An FCDO spokesperson said: “The UK is firmly opposed to the death penalty in all circumstances and in every country as a matter of principle. We routinely raise human rights issues with other countries, including Saudi Arabia, and never shy away from those conversations when it is appropriate.”