East London Humanist chair Paul Kaufman is sceptical about the government’s values of tolerance and democracy


- Credit: Archant

Earlier this year Raif Badawi was stripped and given 50 lashes with a whip at a public flogging in Riyadh.

His crime was to express atheist beliefs contrary to Saudi laws on blasphemy. This is appalling, but why should it be of particular interest to the good people of Newham?

It is because representatives of the Saudi government, who sanction such vicious and barbaric punishment simply for being a non-believer, are likely to be honoured guests here in September.

They are among the many who come to buy weapons at the Arms Fair held every two years at ExCeL.

The total sentence on Badawi is 1,000 lashes, plus 10 years’ imprisonment. Presumably the whippings will resume once he has recovered from his first ordeal.

President Obama and several European leaders have called for his release. However, there has been no meaningful response from David Cameron or his government. In June, members of East London Humanists supported a demonstration outside Downing Street organised by English PEN (the writers’ organisation) where a letter was handed in to the Prime Minister calling on him to act now.

So why has Cameron been so reticent? Our government is usually quick to condemn alleged human rights abuses by, say the Putin government.

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Other Saudi abuses include routine public beheadings, a disgusting practice which rightly brings opprobrium when committed ISIS.

Could Cameron’s silence by any chance have something to do with the Saudi’s huge oil reserves and the fact we sell them billions of arms?

Our government talks a lot about tackling extremism and the importance of promoting British values of tolerance and democracy. It is not surprising if this meets with scepticism given their warm embrace for such religious zealots and enemies of common decency and free speech. More from Paul

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