Archive for October 7, 2021


The news today of the Saudi takeover of Newcastle United is condemned by Amnesty

It was announced today (7 October 2021) that the Saudi Public Investment Fund has agreed a £300m takeover of Newcastle United Football Club. This has resurrected the argument about ‘Sportswash’ and countries with poor human rights records using sport to try and create a better image for themselves. Saudi Arabia has a particularly dire human rights record with the routine use of torture, capital punishment often by primitive means and in public, the poor treatment of women and the silencing of opposition to the regime.

The takeover has been welcomed in Newcastle and it was suggested by a reporter in the City that the fans were jubilant as it will mean the end of Mike Ashley’s ownership and the poor record by the club in the league during his time. Newcastle Chronicle has considerable coverage and photos of large numbers of jubilant fans. The newspaper describes the atmosphere as ‘electric’. On Twitter a tweet said it was about ‘returning a sense of pride’.

Newcastle is not the only football club or sport to accept money from dubious regimes so it would be unfair to single them out. Saudi’s human rights record is particularly dubious however. The list is long and includes the likely murder and dismemberment by Saudi agents of Jamal Khashoggi, the repression of dissidents and human rights defenders, several members of the royal family are still held incommunicado and there is no freedom of religion other than Islam.

Yemen is also a stain on the country with nearly 8,000 killed in air raids including 2,000 children. There is a blockade in place adding to the misery in the country.

Newcastle supporters can also claim that our own royal family and senior ministers have frequently visited the country and are on visible and seemingly good terms with Mohammed bin Salman. The UK is also a major supplier of weapons to the regime, despite evidence of the harm done in their use. To condemn the deal is, they might argue, hypocritical. The Saudis also own considerable real estate in London.

While all this is true, there is no escaping the reality of a terrible regime buying a famous football club to enable it to enhance its image in the world. Although the fans seem delighted with the decision, it remains the case that the money is tainted and from a particularly dire regime.


Action to take on 10 October

While in India for his wedding in November 2017, Jagtar Singh Johal, a British Sikh (pictured), was arrested and accused of involvement in terrorism and in the assassination of a number of Hindu leaders in the Punjab.  He is alleged to have faced torture and been forced to sign blank statements and record a video.  This ‘confession’ was broadcast on national television, where the political nature of his ‘crimes’ was stressed.  He has had no actual trial but faces the death penalty. 

Mr Johal’s brother, Gurpreet, who lives in Scotland, says his brother was a peaceful activist and believes he was arrested because he had written about historical human rights violations against Sikhs in India.  He has appealed to the British Government to seek his brother’s release and to bring him home.

Picture: BBC

In February of this year, almost 140 MPs wrote to the then Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab, asking him to

seek Mr Johal’s release, and a debate was held in Parliament with calls for him to be declared a ‘victim of arbitrary detention.  In June, Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister of Scotland, wrote to Mr Raab, urging him to seek Mr Johal’s release.  Gurpreet Singh Johal is grateful for her support, but believes direct intervention from the British Government is essential.

Mr Johal is supported by the organisations Reprieve and Redress.  He has made numerous court appearances, but his trial has been repeatedly delayed at the request of the prosecution and basic information denied to his defence counsel.

Mr Raab said he was  doing all he could and had been in touch with the Indian authorities, but his response was criticised as ‘weak’.  With the appointment of the new Foreign Secretary – Liz Truss – there is an opportunity to bring Mr Johal’s situation to her attention, and to call for a more positive and pro-active response.

Action

Please write to:

Ms Elizabeth Truss

Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs of the

                                                                                                                        United Kingdom

Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office

King Charles Street

London SW1A 0AA                           Email: fcdo.correspondence@fcdo.gov.uk

and ask her to intervene in Mr Johal’s case, and to secure his release and return home.

Please date your letter 10th October 2021, calling attention to the fact that it is the 19th World Day against the Death Penalty.