§ 5. Mrs. Renée Short
asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs how many British subjects are currently detained in Saudi Arabia; how many complaints he has received about the lack of assistance given to those subjects by the British authorities; and if he will make a statement.
§ Mr. Whitney
On 24 June there were 27 British citizens detained in Saudi Arabia. I am glad to say that Her Majesty's embassy in Jedda has reported this week that at least seven British prisoners should be released under the Ramadan amnesty which is about to be announced. The embassy expects that one additional British prisoner will be released under a special order.
We have received one complaint from a person who made allegations in general terms about the lack of assistance given to him by a consular officer. We looked into the allegations and were satisfied that the consul had done all that he could to help the prisoner concerned.
The British citizens detained, the majority of whom have been convicted of alcohol offences, represent less than 0.1 per cent. of the 34,000 Britons in Saudi Arabia. Her Majesty's consular officers do all that they can to assist and advise British citizens who disobey Saudi law, but they cannot intervene in the Saudi judicial system unless they have reason to believe that a gross miscarriage of justice may have occurred. They visit all British prisoners there regularly.
§ Mrs. Short
I thank the Minister for that reply. Is it not a matter of great concern that there are now more than 20 British citizens in Saudi Arabian prisons? In view of the great concern last August when four British subjects were flogged in Saudi prisons, has the Minister protested to the Saudi authorities about the brutal and inhumane treatment that British subjects have received, and will he issue a list of the people now held in Saudi gaols?
§ Mr. Whitney
I accept that there is concern on that point, and the Saudi authorities have been made aware that the administration of strokes is abhorrent to British opinion, but they have not been moved by our representations. We understand that the ordeal is intended not to inflict severe pain. It is intended more as a humiliation than as a physical punishment. When we have involved ourselves in this matter, we have discovered that a number of the prisoners concerned have actually preferred that punishment to an extended prison sentence.