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February 23, 2006

Activism in the UK - A Lesson

Yesterday I received an email from a friend in the UK Mary Martini, who detailed what she and some others did that she gave me permission to share with you.

There are many lessons in what follows, so read carefully. The biggest two are 1) That the Saudis are not to be trusted, and are guilty of egregious human rights abuses, and 2) average people can get out and do something about it.

What Mary and some others did was to confront Saudi ambassador to the UK, Prince Mohammed bin Nawaf, during his visit to Manchester a few weeks ago. Their purpose was to force him to confront the reality of torture of innocent victims in Saudi Arabia, and to raise public awareness of an incident that involved several Britons and Canadians a few years ago.

The short version is that in 2001 the Saudi government unjustly arrested several Britons, including her ex husband, and tortured them into making false confessions on Saudi TV. Details are below, but first, let's get on with the confrontation.

Here is Mary's description of what happened:

The Saudi delegation was in Manchester at the town hall, it was trade and investment, Saudi has $676 billion to invest in telecoms petrochemicals ect. I made a banner 6ft high and in big A4 size letter I had on it,

SAUDI ARABIA

ARE GUILTY OF TORTURE

HUMAN RIGHTS

NOT TRADE

At 08 30 the Saudi delegation came walking toward us lead by Nawaf the new ambassador they were all so embarrassed they thought we were greeting them until they read what was written, there was myself James cottle and Bill Sampson and les walker turned up, the TV and radio came, as I live in Manchester I thought it was an insult and an opprtunity to get him. The TV were good and went into the meeting on the pretence of talking about trade but hit the ambassador with the torture, his answer was it is safe in Saudi, the trade minister (UK) was a bubbling mess he didnt know what to say when caught on the hop, we are planning to do one at the saudi embassy but they wont know when. I also made up leaflets (below) to hand out to everyone going in, some of the business men didnt want to know and one pushed me when I confronted them with the human rights issue.

Here is what she had on the leaflets

SAUDI ARABIA TORTURES THE INNOCENT

You may not know what it is like to live in perpetual fear but several British men did when they were framed and tortured into making confessions. Imagine you are working in Saudi and you are arrested for no reason, you may have a family in the UK. you are thrown in prison and made to confess to crimes you know nothing about, you will not have contact with the embassy or anyone civilised you will not see a Lawyer for over a year. You will be deprived of sleep and beaten daily, you are unable to walk as your feet are black and blue and full of lumps from the falanga

(beating of feet) you want to die and think of ways of killing yourself.

You will be taken to a kangaroo court and sentenced, you are not told of your sentence and constantly goaded by the guards, so you wait and wait hoping the UK Government have a plan to get you out, NO they have no plan and left you to rot for over 2 years.

Weakness has set in and your skin becomes dry hangs from your bones,

depression sets in and when you finally see the British consul you are not free to speak.

If you are released, you will have no job no life and suffer from medical problems, Saudi Arabia will keep saying you are guilty and you get no redress for what has been done to you.

The only thing you can do is to warn others of the human rights abuses and advise no Brits to work in the Kingdom.

Lots of lessons here

1) Know where your target will be. Do your homework

2) Have a big sign or signs that no one can miss

4) Use the element of surprise

3) Educate passers by with leaflets so that they get your message

The Background

Mary and I "met" on the Internet through the comments section on a blog. As I recall it she told the story of the tortured Britons in comments on a blog somewhere and I sent her an email asking for details. She sent me many articles, and I wrote several posts about what happened.

Here's a summary of what happened, from my first post on this:

In June of 2001, James Cottle, 51, traveled to Saudia Arabia to work on construction contracts. Within a few short months he found himself falsely imprisoned, regularly beaten, and forced to "confess", live on Saudi television, in the style of the Moscow show trials of the late 1930's.

The Saudis claim that he and seven other Europeans were behind a series of terrorist bombings that occured in the "Magic Kingdom" during November of 2000. The charge was that western bootleggers were engaged in a turf war, and that Cottle and the others were participants. However, in typical Stalinist fashion, they never presented any evidence this claim other than the confessions.

After being arrested in June of 2001 Cottle and the others were subjected to Saudi-style interrogation. The first day they yelled at him and slapped him around. Things got worse very quickly. The second night they started beating his feet. Cottle says that he was beaten six to eigtht hours every night. He spent 11 months in solitary confinement while the interrogations and beatings continued. Eventually he was allowed to share a cell with one of the other Britons accused of the bombings.

British consular officials were able to secure visits to him in jail. Although the questioned the Saudi authorities, the Saudis didn't show them any evidence that he was involved in any bombings.

During all this, his ex-wife, Mary Martini, attempted to secure his freedom through the Foreign Office (the UK equivalent of the U.S. Department of State). She says that she didn't receive much help from them. Initially she followed their request to "stay silent" and not create a public stir. However, after more than a year with no results, she grew impatient.

That James Cottle, William Sampson, Ron Jones, Les Walker and the others are innocent is not disputed by anyone in the West. All of the relevant human rights groups, and I believe even the British government itself, have said flat out that there is no way that these men were responsible for planting bombs in Saudi Arabia (which continued to go off while they were detained).

After a year of confinement, James Cottle and the others realized that their only way out was to confess on Saudi TV, which they did.

Finally, on August 8 2003, Cottle and six others were released. Some were a royal pardon, but their convictions were not overturned. Cottle refused to sign the pardon paper so was granted a clemency, the latter not stating that he was sorry "for what he did." Their treatment at the hands of the Saudis had been so bad that Ms Martini said that "I really couldn't recognise the men at first, obviously because the picture of James they have shown was from when he was about 17 stone,"

Even though James Cottle is now a free man, Martini says that he still bears the scars of his imprisonment. He suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and relies on heavy medication and counselors. As quoted in the Guardian, Martini said that "James has been very affected by what he has been through. He gets tired from even from normal things like just walking. Making decisions also seems hard, even deciding what he wants to eat, simple things like that."

To the suprise of no one, the arrest and torture of Cottle and the others is typical of Saudia Arabia. Said Amnesty International, "Secrecy, torture and unfair trials are the hallmarks of Saudi justice."

You can find all of my articles on this situation and Saudi Arabia here.

The city of Manchster issued this press release on the visit, which Mary forwarded to me:

Manchester shows Saudi delegation why it's a great place to do business

A delegation of leading Saudi Arabian officials will be hearing about opportunities to do business in and with Manchester.

Delegates including Saudi ambassador to the UK Prince Mohammed bin Nawaf and Princess Loulwah Al Faisal are visiting the city on January 26 to highlight trade and investment opportunities in Saudi Arabia in a special forum at Manchester Town Hall.

But they will also be shown how much Manchester has to offer as a major international business and investment location.

The ambassador will host a private lunch on January 25, joined by Lord Mayor of Manchester Mohammed Afzal Khan, Sir Howard Bernstein, City Council chief executive and leading companies and partners. The ambassador will also meet local Muslim leaders and visit a number of key development sites in Manchester.

In the evening a reception will take place at the City of Manchester Stadium for the Saudi delegation, hosted by City Council leader Richard Leese and attended by 50 leading figures from Manchester's business community.

Lord Mayor of Manchester Mohammed Afzal Khan said: "I am delighted our great city has been chosen for this important event. I think it is fitting because Manchester has a long and proud history in world trade and is a major international business and investment location.

And yes you read that right. Apparently the mayor of Manchester is a Muslim from Pakistan. Here's his bio.

When released, Ron Jones filed a lawsuit against the individuals in Saudi Arabia responsible for his arrest and torture. Mr Jones has won the first round, obtaining the right to sue the Saudis. However, the Saudis have appealed, and the case will be heard this April. The British government has been of no help in this entire process, wishing it all to be swept under the rug so as not to interfere with "good relations".

Several of the others also have lawsuits pending.

I havent't seen much in the US press about this, although this article appeared in The Washington Times last June, (it is still available and is an excellent summary and background)

The Victims

Of those arrested, James Cottle, Sandy Mitchell, Bill Sampson, Les Walker, Peter Brandon, and Ron Jones have all been to the Parker Institute in Denmark and have proof of torture.

Glenn Ballard, Jimmy Lee, and Raf Shyvens were also unjustly arrested but they were not tortured.

Jim Cottle has written a long account of his ordeal which you can download here: Download file

Posted by Tom at February 23, 2006 10:02 PM

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