The blood in Saudi barrels: Western relations with Riyadh: IT EDITORIAL, 160322

The blood in Saudi barrels: Western relations with Riyadh

Last week UK foreign secretary Liz Truss urged the West to end its "strategic dependence on authoritarian regimes for our energy and for other vital resources".

And yet, last night, her prime minister, Boris Johnson, flew to Riyadh to lobby one of the most brutal regimes in the world, Saudi Arabia, to increase oil production to ease pressure on markets from attempts by the West to reduce its dependence on Russian oil.

His visit came just three days after the Saudis admitted to the state killings of 81 men, including seven Yemenis and one Syrian, for terrorism and other offences including holding "deviant beliefs", the biggest mass execution in decades.

Even Iran, one of the world's most prolific users of capital punishment, condemned the killings as violations of "basic human rights and principles and international law", and cancelled important Iraqi-brokered talks aimed at healing the regionally destabilising rift between the two that has seen them support opposite sides in conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Yemen. Forty-one Saudi Shias from the oil-rich Eastern Province were also among those killed. Saudi Arabia, led by followers of the extremist Sunni Wahhabi sect, routinely accuses the kingdom's Shia minority dissidents of "deviant beliefs" and cracks down hard on Shia protests against discrimination and abuse.

Human rights groups, which have long pointed to severe deficiencies in the Saudi judicial system, including secret trials and well-documented use of torture-based confessions, say that in many of the cases, the charges against the accused involved "not a drop of blood". The executions have been condemned by the EU and UN.

Saudi Arabia has already rebuffed US pressure to increase oil production. The two traditional allies have had icy relations since Joe Biden came to office vowing to turn the kingdom into a pariah over human rights concerns and specifically the 2018 killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi in a Saudi consulate.

The UK has better relations with King Salman and his son, the crown prince and day-to-day ruler Mohammed bin Salman, who has been directly linked to the murder and whom Johnson will reportedly meet. The crown prince only last week promised to modernise the Saudi justice system.

Last year he was revealed to have texted Johnson personally to intervene to "correct" the Premier League's "wrong" decision not to allow a £300 million takeover of Newcastle United by a Saudi-led consortium. And the UK has licensed £2 billion in arms sales to Saudi Arabia since the beginning of the war in Yemen.

There are no "good" human rights abusers, no "friendly" tyrants whose favour democracies should court or turn a blind eye to. If there is blood in the oil pumped by Putin, there is also blood in Saudi barrels.