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UK Minister slammed for 'spineless' U-turn over Saudi torture comment

Member of UK Parliament for Macclesfield, David Rutley [Wikipedia]
Member of UK Parliament for Macclesfield, David Rutley [Wikipedia]

A UK government minister who last week told MPs Saudi Arabia had "clearly" tortured a man to death has been slammed for his "spineless" U-turn. Member of Parliament for Macclesfield, David Rutley, told parliament last week that "clearly torture was used" in the case of Hussein Abo Al Kheir. The 57-year-old is set to be executed shortly on drugs offences.

Rutley, who was appointed to the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) in October, told MPs last week: "We have already expressed our concerns, particularly about Mr al-Kheir's case, in which clearly torture was used."

"We find that abhorrent and we raised that issue at the highest level and will continue to do so not just in his case, but in other cases where that might be happening as well," Rutley added.

Saudi Arabia: new Jordanian and Palestinian prison sentences amid reports of torture

Four days later, Rutley tried to row-back on his harsh criticism of Saudi Arabia by requesting an amendment to the transcripts of parliamentary debates, Hansard. According to the Telegraph Rutley asked for the word "abhorrent" to be removed and casted doubt on the treatment of Al Kheir.

Apparently, the amendment was requested following complaint from Saudi Arabia about the remarks, but government sources said that the correction was made because Rutley had spoken inaccurately rather than because of the complaint.

Raising its concern over the implication of Rutley's action to British democracy, UK human rights group Reprieve has hit-out. "At the very least, going back on the Minister's principled declaration looks spineless. At worst, it raises extremely troubling questions about Saudi influence at the highest levels of UK Government," said Maya Foa, director of Reprieve, which is representing Al Kheir.

Read: Fresh details of torture emerge from Saudi prisons

Former Conservative cabinet minister David Davis, who put forward the urgent question about Al Kheir, said: "A Minister telling Parliament the truth is a good thing, not a mistake".

"The mistake is the Foreign Office's embarrassing effort to rewrite the record. David Rutley was right in what he said, and the Foreign Office should be focused on helping to stop these executions rather than sparing Saudi's blushes," Davis added.

Labour MP Chris Bryant accused the Tory government of acting as Riyadh's public relations agency. "It gravely discredits the UK Government to act like a PR agency for Saudi Arabia's murderous regime rather than an independent state which stands up for fundamental British values."

Typically, when ministers ask for corrections in Hansard, they explain why a mistake has been made. Rutley's letter requesting the change in the parliamentary record offers no reason for the reversal.

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