Human rights groups have raised concerns about a bid by the UK government for a £6million contract to help run prisons in Saudi Arabia.
The UK Ministry of Justice (MoJ) is hoping to profit from selling its expertise to the prison service in the country, which is notorious for public beheadings, floggings and amputations.
Just last week a video taken by a policeman of four colleagues dragging a woman down a street and taking three attempts to behead her with a sword made news headlines.
Saudi Arabia, which last year is reported to have carried out 87 beheadings, attracted further outrage after the first public flogging of blogger Raif Badawi, 31, who was sentenced to 1,000 lashes and 10 years in jail for highlighting the kingdom’s harsh laws on dissent.
Allan Hogarth, Amnesty’s UK head of policy and government affairs, said: “Amnesty has serious concerns about Saudi Arabia’s justice system, given its use of the death penalty, the prevalence of torture in detention, and its use of cruel and degrading punishment.
“So we need to know – how is the Ministry of Justice’s scheme going to help improve the situation?”
Adam Coogle, Middle East researcher at Human Rights Watch, said: “Quiet training programmes are not a substitute for active British engagement with the Saudi authorities on human rights abuses in the justice system.
“We find that pressure works better when Saudi abuses are in the international spotlight. They don’t usually tend to back down because someone has a private conversation. Public advocacy is necessary.”
A new commercial arm of the justice ministry, staffed by civil servants, has put in the bid. Just Solutions international (JSi) will also soon start setting up a probation service in Macedonia.
A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: “Just Solutions international provides knowledge and expertise of prison and offender management services to international organisations and governments who work with offenders.
“It has been government policy for many years to work with overseas governments and help them develop their criminal justice systems, utilising that knowledge to bring funds to the public purse.
“JSi does not work with countries unless it is completely safe to do so and details of any contracts will be made public when agreed.”