Sunday, 29 March 2015

Shaking Up Politics

I agree with the thrust of this article from the BBC in which Nicola Sturgeon, the SNP leader, argues that the UK's crumbling political institutions are in desperate need of an overhaul.

The obvious changes to make are to get rid of the unelected House of Lords and introduce a system of proportional voting for the House of Commons so that Westminster becomes a properly representative national parliament which it's not at the moment, of course.

Now that would be a good start, but the only way it will happen is if Labour and the Tories are not in the driving seat because the establishment parties have too many vested interests in keeping things just the way they are.  

Nicola Sturgeon: UK 'needs an overhaul'

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said she has "clear and constructive views" on many policies that affect the whole of the UK

The SNP could help overhaul the UK's "crumbling" institutions, Scotland's first minister has said.

Nicola Sturgeon told students at the London School of Economics that her party could work to bring "positive change across the UK".

Recent polls have led to speculation that the SNP could hold the balance of power following May's election.

Labour shadow chancellor Ed Balls has described talk of a coalition with the SNP as "nonsense".

Ms Sturgeon's speech at the London School of Economics set out her approach to tax and spend in areas such as Trident nuclear weapons, the North Sea oil and gas industry and the work allowance.

New study

The speech, which came ahead of Wednesday's budget, also contained a pledge that the SNP would serve not only Scotland's interests, but those of the whole of the UK.

Labour has downplayed speculation that it could enter a coalition or "confidence and supply" arrangement with the SNP if there was no outright winner on 8 May.

Appearing on BBC One's Andrew Marr Show on Sunday, Mr Balls was repeatedly asked to rule out a deal.

He told the programme the SNP, which campaigns for Scottish independence, "wants to break up the United Kingdom" and could not "stand up for the whole of the UK".

"We don't want any deal with the SNP, it's not part of our plans, it's nonsense," Mr Balls added.

Ms Sturgeon's speech on Monday morning came as a new study suggested a majority of people in the UK believe Scotland will become an independent country despite the "No" vote in last year's referendum.

Ms Sturgeon said the Palace of Westminster was in a "dilapidated condition"

Researchers at the University of Edinburgh said 69% of people in Scotland believed there would be a split, while 59% of those surveyed in England, 54% in Wales and 59% in Northern Ireland thought that Scotland would eventually leave the UK.

The findings were from a survey of more than 7,000 voters across Britain.

In her speech, Ms Sturgeon argued that the UK's most powerful institutions were crumbling and needed urgent reform, and said the SNP could help to overhaul them.

And she said the UK Parliament's "arcane" processes and headline-grabbing surprises "often limit debate on genuinely complex issues".

She said: "The Palace of Westminster is in such a dilapidated condition. Its fabric is crumbling, some areas are prone to flooding and other parts haven't been properly refurbished for generations.

"It's not just the building that needs to be overhauled. It's the institutions."
Labour shadow chancellor Ed Balls said his party had no plans to go into coalition with the SNP

The first minister also said: "The process UK governments follow now allows virtually no time for proper deliberation or consultation.

"That problem is made worse by the way in which successive governments have approached the Budget.

"Chancellors take pride in pulling rabbits out of the hat. Surprises are seen as a virtue. They help to create headlines and wrong-foot the opposition.

"It's much more difficult for that to happen in Scotland. The Scottish government has to publish a detailed draft budget each September, four months before the budget bill is laid before parliament."

Ms Sturgeon acknowledged that "none of this is easy" and that "neither my party or my government has all of the answers, far from it, but we know we need to try and we do want to be part of that effort."

And she pledged: "If we get the opportunity we intend to be constructive voice in the months and years ahead. We won't just serve Scotland's interests, although we will most certainly do that.

"But we will seek to do more than that if we get the opportunity, we will also seek to play our part in bringing about positive, long lasting and progressive change right across the UK."

Public funding

This was Ms Sturgeon's second high-profile speech in London in recent weeks.

Last month at University College London she attacked the "austerity economics" of the main Westminster parties and called for an extra £180m in public funding to be made available.

Responding to the speech, Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said it was "farcical" for the first minister to claim that the SNP would bring positive change for the whole UK.

He said: "It is farcical to suggest a party which is sworn to break up the UK would be capable of bringing positive change for the UK.

"If the first minister's idea of positive change is breaking NHS waiting time targets, increasing school class sizes and misjudgements on the economy then I suspect people will reject her plans."

Excuses Excuses

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The news that standards of cleanliness are still below par in some of Scotland's hospitals has met with a pathetic response from the Labour Party and the main nursing union, the RCN.

Now the fact that not all hospitals and not all wards or departments in the same hospital come in for criticism, means that staffing issues and resources are not the underlying problem.

Just as staffing issues and resources were not to blame for up to 1200 unnecessary deaths at Mid Staffs Hospital or poor standards of care at the Vale of Leven Hospital in Scotland.

Cleanliness of Scottish hospitals still falls short of the expected standards

Susan Brimelow said there were "general improvements" Times Newspapers Ltd

By Mike Wade - The Times

NHS boards across Scotland have been urged to improve cleaniness regimes in the wake of an annual review which found “standards continue to fall short of what patients have a right to expect”.

The Healthcare Environment Inspectorate (HEI) published its findings yesterday, noting that in the critical area of “standard infection control procedures” its officials made a total of 48 “requirements” in hospitals across Scotland, instructing staff on the improvements needed to meet official guidelines.

The report states: “We continue to find issues with cleanliness on our inspections. We found occasions where some cleaning responsibilities were not clear between nursing and domestic staff, for example the cleaning of patient beds.

“In some instances, we were told ‘there is no time to clean’ between patient use. We also found the cleanliness of patient equipment was not always being monitored effectively to ensure it was clean and ready for use. A common theme from our inspections this year is the poor standard of cleaning in emergency departments.”

The latest publication follows the recent MacLean report, which found that at least 34 people died from clostridium difficile infection in Vale of Leven hospital six years ago.

Lord MacLean said infection control management at the hospital, run by NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, had been “unfit for purpose” and infection control “was not a priority”. He warned that problems of cleanliness were recurring in the NHS.

His point was underlined in November when NHS Lanarkshire was reported to the Scottish government over its repeated failures to meet hygiene standards at Hairmyres hospital in East Kilbride. A month later, Glasgow Royal Infirmary was ordered to improve cleanliness and infection control regimes after inspectors found hospital equipment was contaminated with blood.

While Susan Brimelow, chief inspector of HEI, said they were seeing “general improvements” across Scotland, she added: “This report shows that even after five years of inspections to drive improvements in cleanliness, hygiene and infection control, standards in some NHS boards continue to fall short of what patients have a right to expect. NHS Scotland must not slip in the fight against infection.”

Theresa Fyffe, director of RCN Scotland, warned that staff shortages were likely to impact on best practice. She said: “As our nursing and overall NHS workforce is increasingly stretched trying to meet the demands of their jobs, it is more and more likely that aspects of cleaning will fall through the gaps.

“It is imperative that clear guidance on the roles and responsibilities of nursing and cleaning staff is implemented and communicated effectively.”

Jenny Marra, Scottish Labour’s health spokeswoman, said NHS staff were “being let down by the SNP government”. She added: “For inspectors to be told that in some instances there is no time to clean beds between patients will shock Scots, and is a damning indictment of the condition of our NHS under the SNP.

“We know that the NHS is under huge pressure, but the SNP simply are not giving it the support it needs.”

Shona Robison, the cabinet secretary for health, wellbeing and sport, said: “I welcome the chief inspector’s recognition that there have been big steps forward in Scotland’s hospitals around cleanliness and patient safety.

“However, I share the inspectorate’s disappointment that there are recurring areas and repeat requirements where improvement is still needed.

“I have made it clear to the chairs of all health boards about the importance I attach to these inspections and the findings that arise from them. I asked all chairs to personally look at the cleanliness and infection control compliance of hospitals under their control and reassure me that the high standards we expect are being maintained.”

Benefits Party

Rachel Reeves campaigning

Rachel Reeves, Labour's shadow secretary for work and pensions, has been receiving a lot of political flak over the following comment she made during a recent interview with The Guardian:

“We are not the party of people on benefits. We don’t want to be seen, and we’re not, the party to represent those who are out of work.”

Now it's a sign of how completely bonkers the Labour Party is these days that one of its senior figures can be heavily criticised for speaking such an obvious truth. 

But throughout the lifetime of the present Westminster Parliament the Labour opposition has voted against every welfare reform put forward by the Coalition Government while failing to come up with any serious proposals of its own.

If I had my way, I would limit the length of time that people can claim out of work benefits because there's no reason for fellow citizens to be unemployed for years on end, unless they suffer from a serious medical condition.

Hate Preachers

I suppose that coming from a family of Jehovah's Witnesses, Brusthom Ziamani, was already possessed of a predilection to believe in some strange things, but you have to wonder about the nature of his induction into the Islamic faith.

In the sense that he seems to have embraced violence and jihad very soon after becoming a Muslim which presumably means that these hate preachers organise themselves around extremist groups like al-Muhajiroun.

Now I thought al-Muhajiroun had been outlawed in the UK although according to this BBC report some of its members appear still to be active.

I wonder if this includes the preposterous Anjem Choudary and whether this vile little man is still living off the state courtesy of his 'jihadseeker's allowance.

Soldier beheading plan teenager Brusthom Ziamani jailed

A teenager who planned to behead a British soldier has been jailed for 22 years by a judge at the Old Bailey.

Brusthom Ziamani, 19, from Camberwell, south London, was found guilty last month of preparing an act of terrorism.

The court heard he was inspired by the murder of Fusilier Lee Rigby and used the internet to research cadet bases.

He converted to Islam in 2014 and became radicalised. Months later he was arrested in east London in a possession of a 12in knife and a hammer.

Ziamani, who was held on 19 August as part of a joint police and MI5 intelligence operation, also had a black "Islamic flag" in his bag.

Police say he visited his former girlfriend earlier that day, when he showed her his weapons and told her he intended to attack and kill soldiers.

'Would have killed'

The trial heard he told her Michael Adebolajo - one of the men who murdered Fusilier Rigby in Woolwich, south-east London a year earlier - was a "legend".

Judge Timothy Pontius told Ziamani: "A realistic and sensible assessment of the whole of the evidence leads inescapably to the conclusion that this defendant, had he not by sheer good fortune been spotted and stopped by the police on the street in east London, would have carried out the intention he had so graphically expressed to his ex-girlfriend just a few hours before."

He said Ziamani would have to serve at least two-thirds of his sentence before being eligible for parole, adding that he would extend the time he would spend on licence after his release by five years.

The knife police found on Ziamani was shown to the jury

Ziamani was born in London to Congolese parents and went to school in Peckham. His mother worked as a nursery nurse and his father was a psychiatric nurse.

The defendant told the court that his parents, who are Jehovah's Witnesses, had found out he was a Muslim only when they had seen pictures of friends in Islamic clothes on his mobile phone.

'Groomed and radicalised'

During the trial, jurors heard how Ziamani had fallen in with members of the extremist organisation al-Muhajiroun, after he was "kicked out" of his home after converting to Islam.

Police say the group played a "major role in influencing and shaping his radical views" and he attended their demonstrations.

The jury heard Mr Ziamani also put posts on Facebook supporting Sharia law and stating he was "willing to die in the cause of Allah".

It was told Ziamani had been arrested in June last year on an unrelated matter and police found a ripped-up letter to his parents in his jeans pocket, in which he had written about mounting an attack on a British soldier.

In the letter Ziamani stated because he had no means of getting out to Iraq or Syria he would wage war against the British government on UK soil.

He was bailed, but refused to engage with officers from the government's anti-radicalisation programme, Prevent.

Ziamani attended meetings organised by the extremist organisation al-Muhajiroun

Ziamani's lawyer, Naeem Mian, said his client was not an "entrenched extremist" but a young man who while destitute had been groomed by people who were "more sophisticated and mature" than him.

"It is worrying to say the least that those who groomed him are able to groom and radicalise a young man in such a short period of time," he said.

"On any view it is a tragic case because this young man will spend a long time in custody after which he will inevitably be unemployable. His foolish, naive acts have resulted in him throwing his life away at his tender age. He has nothing to look forward to now."

When Ziamani was convicted last month, Commander Richard Walton of the Counter Terrorism Command described him as an "impressionable young man who became radicalised then rapidly developed an extremist, violent mindset".

After the sentencing, Deb Walsh, deputy head of counter terrorism at the Crown Prosecution Service, said: "This case highlights how violent and extreme views on a page can become credible threats to the lives and safety of British citizens."

Nut-Job (10/02/15)

In one sense this deluded 'nutjob' is patently insane given his ridiculous views and beliefs, but as an otherwise functioning human being Brusthom Ziamani he clearly understands right from wrong, as did Anders Breivik and Charles Manson who both went on to commit terrible crimes.

So I hope Ziamani is sent to prison for a very long time and well done to his ex-girlfriend for blowing the whistle and alerting the authorities.

Muslim convert arrested on his way to behead British soldier

A court sketch of Brusthom Ziamani - Elizabeth Cook

By John Simpson - The Times

A teenage Muslim convert who idolised the killers of Fusilier Lee Rigby was arrested in the street on his way to behead a soldier, a jury was told.

Brusthom Ziamani, 19, was arrested in east London with a 12-inch knife, a “pick-style” hammer and a black Islamic flag after researching locations for military barracks and army cadet training centres, the Old Bailey heard today.

Mr Ziamani was arrested hours after showing the weapons to an ex-girlfriend and telling her he planned to emulate his “hero”, Michael Adebolajo, and telling her “me and the brothers are planning a terrorist attack”.

The defendant, from a Christian family, had been arrested and bailed six months earlier after police searching an address found a five-page letter to his parents in which he promised to wage war on the government.

In the letter, shown to the jury, he apologised to his parents for the stress he had previously caused them, he said he hoped to be martyred and wrote: “British soldiers [sic] heads will be removed and burned u cannot deafet the muslims.”

He said that because he could not reach Syria and neighbouring countries he would “wage war against the British government on this soil”. He said he represented ISIB, the Islamic State of Ireland and Britain.

He went on to address Muslims more broadly: “Borthers pick up your swords gins [sic guns] bombs take off there limbs we should do a 9/11 and 7/7 and Woolwich all in one day … don’t try n feel sorry for them this is 2 ALL muslims fight dz people n be a mujahid may Allah give us victory.”

At interview, he told officers that he wanted to join Islamic State fighters in Syria and praised radical preachers such as Anwar al-Awlaki, Abu Hamza and Anjem Choudary.

His Facebook account, under the name Mujahid Karim, variously featured calls for sharia in the UK, calls for others to fight jihad, and antisemitism, including praise for Hitler. In one post he wrote that he was “willing to die in the cause of Allah”.

After his first arrest he was entered into the government’s counterterrorism scheme, Prevent, but his online activity showed that even as he met Prevent engagement officers his Facebook activity was becoming increasingly radical, the trial heard.

On one occasion in June he left a meeting with his Prevent officers and posted an image of machine gun-toting men waving a flag with a quote from the Koran beneath: “Fight them: Allah will punish them by your hands and will disgrace them and give you victory over them.”

Annabel Darlow, for the prosecution, told the jury: “It is the case for the crown that this defendant, in the spring and summer of 2014, began preparing for the commission of an act of terrorism. Mr Ziamani reverted to Islam in the spring of 2014 and very swiftly he became radicalised.

“His hatred of non-believers, his extreme beliefs and interest in violent jihad began to crystallise into a plan to attack a member of the British military forces.

“He researched, as you will hear, the locations of military bases and specifically researched the locations of army cadets in southeast London.

“His idols were two men, who in May 2013, had notoriously murdered Lee Rigby, a young soldier.”

On the day he was arrested he had insisted on visiting an ex-girlfriend in person to tell her his plans, the court heard.

He arrived at her home at 7am and was invited in and told her that the plan was “basically to kill soldiers”, Ms Darlow said.

When his former girlfriend, who cannot be named for legal reasons, asked if the plan was similar to the murder of Lee Rigby, Mr Ziamani told her it was, the barrister added.

The court then heard that after being charged and remanded in custody, Mr Ziamani told a prison officer: “I was on my way to kill a British soldier at an army barracks. I was going to behead the soldier and hold his head in the air so my friend could take a photograph.”

Mr Ziamani denies one count of preparing for a terrorist act in August last year.

The trial continues.

Jihadi Allowance (26/09/14)

Anjem Choudary is one of nine men arrested by the Metropolitan Police as part of the ongoing battle against Islamist terror groups.
But wouldn't it be great if we had some joined up government in this country by switching off this ridiculous little man's access to welfare benefits because while it's not the biggest issue in the world, the fact is public money is being used to help this self-appointed preacher spread his message of hate.
Presumably that's one welfare reform that everyone at Westminster can agree upon.
Dark Ages Debate (21 December 2013)
I don't have any problem with the BBC's Today programme debating issues with hate-filled Jihadist allowance seekers like Anjem Choudary - in fact I think there should be more of it and more Muslim voices invited to explain why this man does not represent  the views of Muslims in the UK.

I am not a religious person in anyway, but I have lots of family and friends who do possess religious beliefs - so live and let live, I say.

My only 'red line' with religion is that it should be kept separate from the state and be denied the power to control people's lives - as it has in Christian countries down the ages (until relatively recently) and as Islam does in certain Muslim countries, where religious and other secular minorities continue to be persecuted ruthlessly.

So more the more discussion the better as far as I'm concerned - because Anjem Choudary and his ilk have been hiding in the dark all the years, as far as the wider public is concerned, and its high time their views were challenged by the mainstream media - and not just by the Daily Mail.       

BBC's Today programme criticised for giving airtime to radical cleric

Anjem Choudary declined to condemn killers of soldier Lee Rigby during debate on Radio 4 show

By Josh Halliday - The Guardian

Anjem Choudary, former leader of the proscribed group al-Muhajiroun. Photograph: Sean Dempsey/PA

The BBC is under fire for inviting the radical cleric Anjem Choudary on to a Radio 4 Today programme debate about the murder of the soldier Lee Rigby.

The corporation was accused of lending a platform to a "hateful extremist" when it featured Choudary alongside Lord Carlile in a discussion about radicalisation, following the conviction on Thursday of Rigby's killers Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale.

The debate triggered strong criticism on Twitter, including from the Independent columnist Owen Jones, who said: "Why do media keep giving a platform to Anjem Choudary, a hateful extremist who doesn't speak for British Muslims, other than to troll us?"

The Jewish Chronicle editor, Stephen Pollard, said: "Really, what is the point of giving an attention-seeking maniac like Choudary the one thing he wants – attention?"

The BBC has faced criticism in the past for inviting Choudary, a former leader of the proscribed group al-Muhajiroun, on to its topical discussion programmes.

Both Adebolajo, 29, and Adebowale, 22, had ties to al-Muhajiroun and were frequently seen at its demonstrations in London. Adebowale was seen at a al-Muhajiroun-linked demonstration outside the US embassy as recently as September 2012.

The Metropolitan police has said it monitors Choudary's public comments for potential breaches of the law.

When asked by the Today presenter John Humphrys whether he condemned the killings, Choudary said: "I think that to talk about condemnation or to talk about how we feel is not the most important question now, and I'm not going to go down that road. I think that what is important is to learn lessons from what has taken place.

"Whether you agree or disagree with what took place, you cannot predict the actions of one individual among a population of 60 million when the government is clearly at war in Muslim countries. I condemn those who have caused what has taken place on the streets of London, and I believe that the cause of this is David Cameron and his foreign policy."

Carlile, the government's former anti-terrorism adviser, told the programme: "Mr Choudary is a demagogue, he doesn't like the United Kingdom, he doesn't believe in democracy. He wouldn't be allowed to say what he has said in almost any other country in the world, including Muslim countries.

"I think he is an outrageously bad influence on young Muslims in this country. I think he offends the law-abiding Muslim community that is proud to be British and I think we now need to hear much more from the Muslim community – particularly from young leaders in the Muslim community – about how they condemn his actions.

Imran Awan, a criminologist and expert on terrorism and extremism, said: "My view is that it's almost like a continuous narrative – I'm not sure if it's to do with piquing their audience – but I think he fuels everything that is anti-British. In a way many people believe he is one of the key links to radicalising young people and, if he is one of those people, it is giving him the oxygen of publicity he so badly craves."

Awan, a lecturer at Birmingham City University, said he felt uncomfortable with Choudary using the collective "we" in his interview. "That I found uncomfortable because it implies he's talking for us, myself as a Muslim and the law-abiding Muslim community. He doesn't speak for myself or the law-abiding Muslim community."

He added: "As a Muslim and as a criminologist the whole idea is trying to counter the extremist narrative and you can genuinely do that – but inviting people like him on the show all you do is give him a platform."

Referring to a separate story about two students who were forced to cover up clothing featuring a cartoon depiction of the prophet Muhammad, the broadcaster Samira Ahmed said on Twitter: "UK's free speech confusion: LSE apologises over clamping down on T-shirts followed by Anjem Choudary happily stirring thing ups few mins later."

A BBC spokeswoman said: "We have given great consideration to our reporting of the Woolwich murder and the subsequent trial, and carried a wide range of views from across the political and religious spectrums. We have a responsibility to both report on the story and try to shed light on why it happened."

"We believe it is important to reflect the fact that such opinions exist and feel that Choudary's comments may offer some insight into how this crime came about. His views were robustly challenged by both the presenter, John Humphrys and by Lord Carlile, the government's former anti-terrorism adviser."

Hate Crimes (21 February 2013)

Every so often the The Mail group of newspapers comes up with a good story - which seem to get ignored by other parts of the press and media.

Maybe it's because The Mail  is seldom even-handed or measured - and seems completely obsessed with stories about benefits cheats, immigration and Princess Diana. 

But that doesn't mean the newspaper is incapable of locking on to a big story - on something that really matters - when it sees an opportunity.

The other day The Mail reported on a Muslim preacher - Anjem Choudary - whom the paper  describes as a 'hate preacher' who pockets £25,000 a year in benefits - while campaigning to bring Shariah law to the UK.

Apparently, Anjem Choudary has been recorded telling his followers to claim benefits as part of their struggle - a 'Jihadseeker's Allowance', if you like -  rather than the normal 'Jobseeker's Allowance'.

The Mail goes on to say that Choudary told a small crowd of around 30 fanatics: 

"People will say, 'Ah, but you are not working'. But the normal situation is for you to take money from the kuffar (non-Muslim).

So we take Jihadseeker's Allowance. You need to get support."

Anjem Choudary went on to say - according to the newspaper - that David Cameron (the British Prime Minister), Barack Obama (the American President) and the leaders of Pakistan and Egypt - should all be killed.

Now presumably all of this is recorded and reported accurately - in which case the evidence should surely be a matter for the police to pursue.

Because it all reminded me of the time - some years ago - when the author Fay Weldon bravely intervened in a TV discussion programme demanding to know why the police were not arresting the former singer Cat Stevens - now known as Yusuf Islam.

The coward Cat was put on the spot but so too was a senior police officer who was sitting at the discussion table with Fay Weldon - who demanded to know why the police didn't get off their backsides and arrest the former pop star for inciting violence - and promoting a hate crime.

To my mind that's exactly what should happen to Anjem Choudary - and just because it's The Mail that's raising the issue shouldn't be an excuse for the rest of the press and media - to look the other way.  

Here's a YouTube link to the moment when Fay Weldon stands up for human decency - and a separate clip of Salman Rushdie putting Yusuf Islam (Cat Stevens) - firmly in his place.        

Yusuf Islam (Cat Stevens)

Salman Rushdie

Reforming Islam

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The Independent reports on plans by the authorities in Saudi Arabia to murder one of their own citizens for 'apostasy' or in plain language turning his back on Islam.

So here's a real opportunity for all reform minded Muslims to stand up and be counted because in a civilised world it cannot be right for religion and religious observance to be reinforced through such barbaric and cruel punishment.

Now some may say that their holy books and scriptures decree that non-believers can be put to death, but if so then their views need to be challenged through the same kind of vigorous debate that led to most Christians accepting that the Bible is not the literal word of God.

The name of the young man has yet to emerge and when it does I hope that people of all faiths and no faith at all will unite to condemn the whole business of apostasy although I recognise that we all run the risk of being accused of blasphemy for taking such a stand.
Man to be beheaded in Saudi Arabia after ripping up a Koran and hitting it with his shoe

The man was sentenced to death on charges of apostasy - abandoning Islam

By LIZZIE DEARDEN - The Independent

A man who posted a video online of himself ripping up a Koran and beating the shredded holy book with a shoe is to be beheaded in Saudi Arabia for renouncing his Muslim faith.

The unnamed prisoner, in his 20s, was given the death sentence by the country’s Sharia courts for the offence of apostasy – abandoning Islam – the Saudi Gazette reported.

Deviation from the nation’s enforced Sunni faith is harshly punished, according to Human Rights Watch.

Public worship by adherents of religions other than Islam is banned and anything deemed an insult to the faith can be treated as a crime.

Saudi Arabia is the home of Mecca - one of Islam's two holy cities - and enforces religious law

The country’s interpretation of Wahhabism demands capital punishment for a wide range of crimes, including murder, rape, armed robbery and drugs smuggling.

Death can also be the sentence for internationally condemned religious “crimes”, including apostasy, sorcery, blasphemy and idolatry.

Executions are often carried out by public beheading. That was the fate of a Burmese woman in May who was dragged through the streets of Mecca and killed in front of crowds of people in January.

Protesters simulate a flogging in front of the Saudi embassy in Washington DC in protest against the 10-year prison sentence given to a blogger

Laila Bint Abdul Muttalib Basim protested her innocence until the moment of her death, shouting “I did not kill. I did not kill” before she was executed by sword while being held down by four police officers.

She had been convicted of the sexual abuse and murder of a child.

Human rights groups say the Saudi justice system suffers from a lack of transparency and proper process that sees defendants often denied basic rights such as legal representation.
Saudi Arabia’s two-million-strong Shia minority is one of the religious groups persecuted and discriminated against (AFP)

Although the government has made limited reforms to its judicial system, it has defended it as fair and shows no sign of reducing the number of executions.

In 2014 the number of rose to 87, from 78 in 2013, and seven people were killed in the first two weeks of this year alone.

Saudi Arabian ministers will be holding talks with the British government during a UK tour this week.

Interior Minister Prince Mohammed bin Nayef will have dinner with Foreign Secretary tonight at the start of the three-day visit and is scheduled to meet Defence Secretary tomorrow and then the Prime Minister and Home Secretary on Thursday.

Saudi Arabia has close ties with Britain, as Prince Charles' recent visit demonstrated

David Cameron has defended Britain's close ties with the kingdom, especially in relation to counter-terrorism intelligence and defence, despite human rights concerns.

Asked if the fate of imprisoned liberal blogger Raif Badawi and other issues would be raised, the Prime Minister’s official spokesperson said: “We have consistently raised concerns that we have and will continue to do so at every level because no issues are off the table.

"We have been very clear about those views - including in the ongoing case that many people have in mind - and we will continue to raise that."

Mr Cameron recently travelled to Saudi Arabia for the funeral of King Abdullah and Prince Charles also visited rulers on a recent tour.

Additional reporting by agencies

Touchy Turks

Image result for cartoons of erdogan + images

Turkey's thin-skinned President Recip Erdogan is apparently the driving force behind moves to prosecute a former Miss Turkey for making fun of him by re-posting a satirical poem on Instagram.

The way things are going I think the European Union would be better off without Greece or Turkey as members. 

Former Miss Turkey Merve Buyuksarac faces two years in jail for posting satirical poem on Instagram about Turkey's President Erdogan

She denies insulting President Erdogan


A former model and Miss Turkey could face up to two years for social media posts that prosecutors have deemed to be critical of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

A lawyer for the model Merve Buyuksarac said today that an Istanbul prosecutor is demanding she be prosecuted on charges of insulting a public official. A court will decide whether to start proceedings.

Buyuksarac was detained last month for sharing a satirical poem on her Instagram account. She denies insulting Erdogan.

She becomes the latest figure to face trial for insulting Erdogan, amid fear the country is lurching toward authoritarian rule.

In recent years, Turkey has curbed media freedoms, cracked down on critical social media postings and prosecuted hundreds of people who took part in mass anti-government protests.