The Saudi Arabian ambassador warned Britain on Monday that it must expel a Saudi dissident or lose millions of dollars in trade with the Mideast nation.
Mohammed al-Masari, a former physics professor and leading critic of Saudi Arabia’s ruling royal family, is fighting deportation to the Caribbean island of Dominica, which has offered to accept him.
Britain must say this week whether it will revoke its decision to deport al-Masari and grant him political asylum. The government says his activities jeopardize Saudi contracts with British defense contractors and other companies.
Asked in a British Broadcasting Corp. documentary how his government views the issue, envoy Ghazi Algosaibi said, “If you are so insistent that I am going to tell you that the continued presence here will harm British relations and trade relations, I’m going to tell you that, yes.”
He denied this amounted to blackmail, but added: “We are a sovereign country. We can buy wherever else we want.”
On March 5, a judge ordered the government to reconsider al-Masari’s request for asylum and give its verdict within a month.
Judge David Pearl said Dominica might not be able to resist pressures to expel al-Masari.
Al-Masari, 49, was arrested in Saudi Arabia in 1993 and held for six months; he said he was tortured. He fled to Britain after his release, only to be told in January that he would be expelled.
Al-Masari’s Committee for the Defense of Legitimate Rights in Saudi Arabia is demanding greater democracy and is campaigning against alleged corruption in the royal family.
The BBC documentary questioned whether Prime Minister John Major’s government was afraid to criticize Saudi Arabia over its human rights record for fear of losing arms contracts, for which the United States is Britain’s main competitor.
In 1985, Saudi Arabia signed to buy more than $15 billion in British arms, and in 1993 ordered 48 Tornado fighter planes and other British military equipment worth $6 billion. Britain also wants to sell its Challenger tank to the Saudis.
After the documentary aired Monday night, the Foreign Office issued a statement defending both Saudi Arabia and Britain’s dealings with it.
“We engage in regular dialogue on human rights with the Saudi authorities, including through the European Union,” the Foreign Office said. “It is important to encourage understanding in Saudi Arabia of what is of concern to UK opinion, while respecting each other’s traditions and beliefs.”
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