Archive for April 23, 2020


Plans by a consortium funded by Saudi Arabia to purchase Newcastle United come under attack

Anyone who has followed the Yemen conflict or is the least bit aware of human rights around the world, will know of Saudi Arabia’s dismal record on this front.  For five years they have waged a brutal war in Yemen leaving the country a wreck and many thousands dead.  We have frequently described their activities in previous blogs on this site. Their bombing of civilian targets is a disgrace as is the process of what is called ‘double tapping’ that is, circulating round after an attack on a hospital, school or wedding, and returning for a second round of bombing to kill the rescue workers.  That the RAF is involved in this activity – supposedly ‘advising’ the Saudis – is a stain on the UK’s international reputation.

Their human rights record is appalling.  Torture is common and confessions extracted using the process used to justify executions.  Death by beheading in public displays are the norm.  Women’s rights are severely restricted despite the promised reforms.  Human rights activists are regularly targeted and of course there is the murder of Adnam Kashoggi who was almost certainly dismembered after his death by Saudi personnel.

Now they want to purchase Newcastle United football club via the Public Investment Fund chaired by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and the sum of £500m is mentioned in a deal.

Kate Allen, Amnesty’s Director said:

Amnesty UK director Kate Allen said in a separate letter to Masters [chief executive of the Premier League]: “So long as these questions [about Saudi Arabia’s human rights record] remain unaddressed, the Premier League is putting itself at risk of becoming a patsy of those who want to use the glamour and prestige of Premier League football to cover up actions that are deeply immoral, in breach of international law and at odds with the values of the Premier League and the global footballing community”.

She suggests that Newcastle fans to familiarise themselves with the human rights situation in Saudi Arabia before the deal goes ahead.  For many fans, their chief desire is to see a new owner to replace Mike Ashley, the current one.

Saudi Arabia has been trying, unsuccessfully so far, to improve its image and using ‘sports wash’ is part of that plan.  The sums of money are huge and it appears that sports people are unconcerned at the source of the money or how tainted it is before accepting and cashing in the cheques.

The country is the major overseas purchaser of our arms exports.  Royalty have been frequently pressed into service as part of the charm offensive.  Unsurprisingly, the culture secretary, Oliver Dowden MP said it was a ‘matter for the Premier League’ and the government is unlikely to intervene.

Football is big business and the sums paid to players and their transfer fees can be stratospheric.  Players are hugely influential and many young people see them as heroes.  Although players are not involved in this transaction directly, they will ultimately benefit from it financially.

To quote Jonathan Lieu writing in the Guardian:

And so, welcome to the new orthodoxies of English football.  Saudi Arabia is good.  Amnesty International is bad.  New signings are more important than murder, broadcast rights more important than women’s rights, and a basic sense of humanity is ultimately expendable if you can scrape into next season’s Europa League.  It’s a manifesto, to be sure.  Just don’t expect anyone with a scintilla of decency to feel warmly about it.  (23 April 2020)

Sources: Guardian, BBC, CNN

 


Zakia’s husband was one of the 37 people killed in a mass execution in Saudi Arabia on April 23, 2019

Saudi Arabia has taken my husband, and now won’t let us grieve. My children and I want to bury him and pay our respects. We deserve that much. Zakia Albakheet

These executions happened without warning, so Zakia and other families never had the chance to say goodbye.  Now, Zakia is fighting for the right to bury her husband, Abbas al-Hassan, whose body was never returned. Together, we can help.

Will you share Zakia and Abbas’s story from Newsweek with your friends and family, marking the anniversary of Saudi Arabia’s 37 illegal executions one year ago today

The Saudi government beheaded Zakia’s husband despite multiple protests from the United Nations.  It was an injustice – and it continues so long as the Saudi authorities prevent her from burying her husband, and mourning his death.  Abbas deserved a fair trial and a fair chance at justice. He didn’t get it. Now, a year after his execution, his wife Zakia deserves the chance to say goodbye. With your help, we can make sure her story is known and that Saudi authorities are held to account.

The Reprieve community has shown that the Saudi government is sensitive to its image on the international stage.  Together, we have kept the stories of Ali al-Nimr, Dawood al-Marhoon and Abdullah al-Zaher in the public eye and continue to push British politicians to speak up for them.

Together, we can fight for Zakia to have the chance to say goodbye to Abbas.  Please share their story in Newsweek with your friends and family.

Source: Reprieve


Speculation over health of Kim Jong-Un and his Nation

Kim Yong-Un

The unprecedented absence of North Korea’s leader from its most important state celebration, the Day of the Sun on 15 April, has fuelled speculation as to the health of Kim Jong-Un.   Suggestions from Daily NK – news supplied largely from defectors – is that the leader has recently received heart surgery.  No confirmation of this has been made to date however.  Another theory is that the leader is being protected from Covid-19, since Kim Jong-Un is often seen in close physical contact with people, offering handshakes and hugs, which make him vulnerable to the virus.

This secrecy surrounding his health inevitably extends to the health of the entire ‘hermit kingdom’.  While thousands have been quarantined, borders closed and tourists and foreign diplomats seen off, the government still insists there are ‘no cases in the country’.

Kim is however eager to be seen as pro-active in protecting the nation from the virus.  He recently chaired a public health meeting and has issued hygiene advice nationwide.  Pyongyang has received test kits from Russia and from China while various items of protective equipment have been donated by UNICEF and Doctors Without Borders.

The ‘great leader’ would be reluctant in any case to admit to the arrival of the virus since any weakness might invite criticism of his regime.  It was fear of reporting the disease to central government that allowed it initially to spread in China but whether North Korea will learn from this lesson seems unlikely.  A defector who recalls practising medicine during the SARS outbreak of 2002/03 said that not only was medical equipment seriously lacking then, but deaths were going unrecorded.

Certainly the sheer length of the border between North Korea and China, and its regular use by smugglers and traffickers, would suggest that the virus might enter relatively easily. If it did, that would be a tragedy for the 40% of North Koreans reportedly undernourished. And while new hospitals have been built under Kim’s rule, experts say they mostly benefit the elite in this two-tier nation.

This month the defector Thae Yong-Ho made history by winning a constituency seat in South Korea’s government. Once deputy ambassador to the UK, he says he is determined to work for the freedom of his compatriots who live in virtual ‘slavery’.  The high price defectors pay (and there are on average 1000 per year) is the knowledge that their extended families will be detained, or worse, in one of the country’s many detention centres and labour camps.

Human rights, and the health care that these insist on, are sadly in very short supply in North Korea.

 

 

Sources: The Guardian, ABC News, TPM Seoul.