British ministry bids for deal with Saudi prison service

UK Justice Ministry (file photo)

A commercial arm of the UK Justice Ministry is bidding for a multi-million pound contract with Saudi Arabia’s prison service despite rights concerns.

The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) is hoping to profit from selling its expertise to the Persian Gulf monarchy, which faces accusations of human rights violations, the Guardian reported Sunday.

The new commercial arm of the ministry, Just Solutions international (JSi) has bid for a £5.9 million contract in Saudi Arabia and will soon start setting up a probation service in Macedonia, and is also in the running to build a prison in Oman, the report added.

Human rights groups have raised concerns about the MoJ working so closely with Riyadh which is currently under scrutiny over the botched execution of a woman who died protesting her innocence and the harsh punishment meted out to a liberal blogger, not to mention the kingdom’s severe suppression of anti-government protesters.

“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,” the report quoted Amnesty’s UK head of policy and government affairs Allan Hogarth as saying.

The British ministry said all JSi projects had to be signed off by the Foreign Office and the local embassy after an evaluation that covered human rights, but declined to provide further details on the grounds that the project was “commercially sensitive”.

The JSi bid was featured in a December report to parliament that also gave details of a memorandum of understanding on judicial cooperation signed by the UK and Saudi Arabian justice ministers in Riyadh in September.

It said the contract would be “to conduct a training needs analysis across all the learning and development programs within the Saudi Arabian prison service.”

It is also unclear how much money JSi will be able to earn for the justice ministry, or whether that income will come at the expense of other services, as there are no public accounts for the organization.


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