The political play-book unfolding in Venezuela is starting to look depressingly familiar. The house arrest and removal of opposition politicians, the violent put down of protest, and Nicolás Maduro’s recent moves to secure what amounts to ultimate power, are events I’m becoming increasingly uncomfortable with. If there’s one thing we don’t need right now it’s another dictatorship, even if our own so-called democracy comes frightening close to that on many levels.
So it’s disappointing to see Corbyn return to his previous demeanour of equivocation when asked to condemn events in South America. In many ways I can see echoes in his responses to questions on the situation there and his less than forthright support for our continued membership of the EU during last year’s referendum campaign. After witnessing another more powerful and direct side to Corbyn’s character during the election earlier this year, it’s disheartening to see him once again dodging questions and giving half answers on something as straightforward as this.
Totalitarianism and Oppression
But while we may be witnessing totalitarianism taking tentative root in Venezuela, there’s already a well established family tree of despots that our government supports elsewhere in both word and deed.
Another nation whose worth is also measured in barrels of oil and where western powers have also historically meddled in order to secure a fulsome supply of the black stuff that so much of our modern economy is based on.
A state that the British government enthusiastically supplies with a well stocked and plentiful arsenal of modern weaponry, regardless of the fact that it is then used to blow the arms and legs off children in neighbouring states – not to mention the fact that huge amounts of British-made weapons sold to the Saudis inexplicably find their way into the hands of terrorist groups such as Islamic State.
A country that also actively oppresses it’s womenfolk on the grounds of Muslim tradition in ways that are routinely criticised when displayed by other ostensibly Muslim states.
A government that refuses to recognise any form of LGBT rights, and views homosexuality and transgenderism as immoral and indecent activities, punishable by imprisonment, fines, corporal punishment, whipping and even execution.
A country that mistreats it’s workforce and shows little, if any, concern for workers rights or safety.
A state that actively endorses some of the cruelest forms of medieval torture and punishment and savagely suppresses free speech.
I speak, of course, of Saudi Arabia, ruled by an absolute monarchy where the King rules and makes laws by decree and is both the head of state and government – an unelected leader and de facto dictator that Theresa May has been ardently glad-handing without any hint of criticism of his despicable activities both at home and on the world stage.
British Police Involvement
Moreover it’s recently been reported that the British government may even have directly assisted the Saudis in their suppression of peaceful protest with training from British police believed to have helped Saudi agents to arrest more than a dozen people now potentially facing execution.
These include Mujtaba al Sweikat, arrested at age 17 at the airport on his way to begin studies at the University of Western Michigan. His alleged ‘crime’ was to be the admin of a Facebook group critical of the government and photographing street protests.
Munir al-Adam, who was born disabled with an eye and hearing defect, is also facing execution by beheading for allegedly saving messages from rioters on his mobile phone, even though he was not actually at the riots himself. He was arrested in 2012 in the wake of protests in the eastern province and was tortured into confessing to involvement by Saudi police. Torture so severe it caused him to lose hearing in his good ear.
Munir was sentenced to death in the Kingdom’s secretive Specialised Criminal Court after being forced to write his own defence because he was prevented from speaking to a lawyer. He later recanted his ‘confession’, explaining that he was so poor he had never even owned a mobile phone.
Three other juveniles also received death sentences in relation to protests. Ali al Nimr, sentenced to death by cruxifiction. Dawood al Marhoon and Abdullah al Zaher both sentenced to death by beheading, Abdullah was only 15 when sentence was passed.
The arrest, subsequent detention, torture and conviction of these children is bad enough, but the barbaric and archaic nature of their sentences is really not something that any civilisation that lays claim to that description should countenance. Likewise any state that supports and trades with such nations needs to have a serious word with itself. These are not idle threats either. The Saudis regularly carry out executions, including beheadings several times a year, usually in public spaces.
MPs Call For Action
Yet, far from distancing ourselves from these actions, the Home Affairs Select Committee has been told that hundreds of Saudi Arabian police officers were trained by the UK College of Policing. According to the BBC, there are plans to widen the training from forensics to cybersecurity, mobile phone analysis and CCTV systems.
MPs including ex-Labour leader Ed Miliband have written to Theresa May asking her to “personally urge” the Saudi royal family to halt the executions. There are also numerous online petitions addressed to major world leaders, including Theresa May and Donald Trump asking them to intervene in these cases, most notably from the anti death penalty campaigning group Reprieve.
But so far these pleas have fallen on deaf ears. It seems our own government would rather direct their opprobrium at Jeremy Corbyn and the opposition for their lack of condemnation of a nascent political crisis in a country they have very little influence over. Whereas they polish the ego of a rogue state in all but name. Standing by passively while they commit some of the most heinous atrocities on their own citizens for, at worst, minor offences.
Theresa May has even gone to the lengths of defending the Saudi’s activities on the global stage, suppressing a recent report into their funding of extremism whilst denying that her motivation was to protect arms deals. Arms that may very well find their way into the hands of terrorist groups that we and other western states are sending our own troops to face. The scale of the irony, if not the hypocrisy, must be visible from the other side of the galaxy.
Expediency Trumps Morality
Yes, all forms of tyranny, despotism, oppression and violence should be condemned, and whilst I’m not convinced that Corbyn has yet really done that in straightforward enough terms over Venezuela, I know wholeheartedly that he and many other political leaders have bitterly railed against the actions of the Saudis. Yet May and her government continues to turn blind eyes to the facts that are laid before them on numerous occasions.
It seems then that Theresa May is giving us a stark demonstration of how political expediency can trump inherent morality, something that Corbyn will no doubt be accused of in the coming days, perhaps not without cause, except for one subtle difference. Corbyn’s apparent conflict seems to be born of an ideological consistency that may in itself be inconsistent with the facts as they play out. In which case I’m expecting there to be a shift in position from the Labour leader as the political situation unfolds.
In Theresa May’s case I doubt we’ll ever see a change of heart. For that to happen she’d have to grow one first.
[The featured image in this article has been amended as the top right section was actually a public execution from Iran, rather than Saudi Arabia as it had been widely attributed on Google.]
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