Saudi sports washing


Open letter from Reprieve to Sebastian Vettel

October 2022

Saudi Arabia is using its vast wealth to attract a range of sports and sports competitors to its shores as part of a programme to improve its reputation. They have also poured large sums into Newcastle United football club as part of the same exercise. The money seems to work and sports such as tennis, golf, equestrianism, boxing and formula 1 racing have all eagerly taken part and accepted the Saudi millions. They have invested in US sports such as baseball and basketball. The sports people seem not to be concerned at the lack of women’s rights, the use of torture, suppression of free speech and barbaric executions which go on there. In addition, Saudi Arabia has been involved in the war in Yemen which has resulted in considerable loss of life.

Below, is a letter from Reprieve to the racing driver Sebastien Vettel asking him to speak out –

Dear Sebastian Vettel,

We wanted to tell you, as an F1 driver for Aston Martin, about the Saudi Arabian government’s human rights abuses and the fact that Saudi Arabia has just invested in the company you drive for.

The Reprieve community may not be experts on cars or racing, but we are experts in the case of Abdullah al-Howaiti – a child defendant at risk of the death penalty in Saudi Arabia.  

Abdullah was arrested when he was just 14 years old and tortured “confessing” to crimes he did not commit. 

Just last year, the Saudi Arabian regime that has been allowed to invest in Aston Martin, executed child defendant Mustafa al-Darwish, who was 17 years old at the time of his so-called crime. Having a photo on his phone was amongst his alleged offences. If you speak up, you can stop Abdullah facing the same fate.  

The Saudi Arabian Government is doing what is known as sportswashing. They’re appointing tourism ambassadors such as Lionel Messi, creating the LIV golf tournament, and buying sports clubs like Newcastle FC. This is a regime trying very hard to distract people from its human rights abuses. 

We are asking you to follow Lewis Hamilton in speaking out against human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia. You can use your platform as one of F1’s most famous drivers and representing a team part-owned by Saudi Arabia’s government to save lives.

We read that you said, “there are certain values we must stand up for because they outweigh financial interests” and “you also have responsibility and you should make sure you go ahead with the right values and symbols.” Today we’re asking you to exercise your responsibility, value Abdullah’s life, and speak out for him before you retire at the end of the year. Your voice could make the difference. 

Will you speak up for him? 

Thank you,   

The Reprieve Community   


You can sign this petition by following this link. Please help us and the Reprieve community in trying to stop Saudi using its wealth to smooth over its appalling human rights record. Thank you.

Arms firms’ staff employed in the Ministry of Defence


Report reveals the extent of arms firms’ staff employed in the MoD

28 September 2022

A report by Open Democracy reveals the extent of penetration of the Ministry of Defence by individuals employed by the arms companies. This raises immediate issues of conflict of interest, national security and the awarding of millions of pounds of contracts to those same firms as well as the question of licences allowing arms sales to proceed. Open Democracy report that the government would not say whether such secondments represented a conflict of interest.

There has been a long running campaign by the Campaign Against the Arms Trade CAAT, to hold the government to account for sales of weapons to Saudi Arabia. These weapons have been used in the war in Yemen causing untold misery and destruction and the deaths of at least 8,983 people. CAAT had some success and there was a brief moratorium. The government resumed offering licences claiming that violations of international human rights were ‘isolated incidents’. CAAT reports that an appeal is to be heard on 31 January 2023.

Firms include BAE, Leonardo and Qinetiq which has a large presence near Salisbury. The numbers are not small and around 50 individuals are involved. It has been confirmed that they were largely concentrated in the UK Defence and Export directorate which is involved in helping firms sell arms overseas. CAAT points out that it shows that the secondments are deeply embedded in the ministry. The government should be keeping a close eye on what arms are exported to which regime with proper attention to the human rights of the people involved in conflicts. This does not seem to have happened in the case of Yemen and free reign has been offered to companies to sell weapons to Saudi which have been used to bomb schools, hospitals, weddings and other targets. RAF personnel were also revealed to be involved in the activity.

An additional factor is what is called the ‘revolving door’. Senior civil servants, some ex-ministers and senior forces personnel – such as Generals and Admirals – leave or retire from their jobs and take lucrative positions in arms companies with only cursory checks. ACOBA is the government body charged with overseeing this is but has been widely criticised as ‘toothless’. A Private Eye report describes in detail the extent of the corruption. CAAT comments that staff leaving the forces or the MoD take with them extensive contacts and a deep knowledge of how the ministry works. Existing staff are reluctant to upset the arms companies for fear of jeopardising a lucrative consultancy or board appointment when it is their turn to retire. Transparency International have also reported on this problem in a report.

The sale of arms is a profoundly sensitive issue. What arms are sold to which regime is a matter of considerable importance. Films of conflicts around the world always show the various groups armed to the teeth with a wide range of weapons sold to them by overseas firms including those from the UK. These weapons cause untold misery, death or maiming of thousands of people and children. We surely have the right and expectation that the MoD is adopting the highest of standards in deciding on these matters and that decisions are taken with the greatest of integrity.

Yet what we find is that ministers are pusillanimous over the issuing of licences, that large numbers of staff from arms companies are involved in the decisions being made and that senior staff and military people are working in the expectation of being employed by the very companies they are supposed to be in control of.

The result of their actions is the death and suffering of people subject to bombing, drone attacks, cluster munitions, shelling and other outrages courtesy of UK arms firms aided and abetted by a deeply compromised Ministry of Defence. Is the Ministry working on our behalf, or to serve the interests of the arms firms?

Death Penalty report


Death Penalty report for August – September

September 2022

We are pleased to attach the monthly death penalty report with thanks to group member Lesley for the work in compiling it. Note it contains no information about China which is believed to execute more of its citizens than the rest of the world put together, but the details are a state secret.

Boxing in Saudi


Mohammed bin Salman continues his sportswashing activity with a boxing fixture tomorrow in Jedda

August 2022

With its vast wealth, Saudi Arabia is pursuing its attempt to whitewash its reputation by sponsoring a boxing match today (Saturday 20th 2022) between British born Anthony Joshua and the Ukrainian Oleksandr Usyk in Jedda. Each will share a purse of around £33m. This is not the first time and in a previous post we pointed out the human rights problems in Saudi to which Joshua gave a less than satisfactory answer.

Readers of this site will not be unaware of the many posts we have published concerning the dire human rights situation in Saudi. Mass executions including one of the largest ever of 81 men in one day in March. The use of torture is routine, children are not exempt and Mustafa al-Darwish was executed last year. Trials are in secret and often little more than rubber stamping confessions produced following torture.

Only today 19 August 2022, there was a report of a Saudi woman given a 34 year sentence for using Twitter. A terrorist court has imposed the sentence on the Leeds University student who has a mere 2,500 or so followers.

Saudi activities in Yemen also should be mentioned with bombing of non military targets commonplace. British and US arms including aircraft are used in these missions and British personnel – including RAF personnel – are in place to ‘advise’ the Saudis.

In an effort to sanitise this reputation, MbS has embarked on a programme of sportswashing which has included golf, boxing, tennis, F1, horse racing with the worlds richest prize. Even chess is supported. Money has also come to Newcastle United football club. According to a report by Grant Liberty, a massive £1.5bn has been spent on this sportswashing. And the money works with little sign of the hundreds of sports people being the least bit concerned about the country they are competing in. The sports pages are full of their endeavours with facile interviews of the stars. Beheadings? Torture? Mass executions? Yemen? No women’s rights to speak of? None of it seems to concern our sporting heroes so long as the money is right.

Sources: Amnesty, The Guardian, Grant Liberty

Latest death penalty report


We are pleased to attach our latest death penalty report thanks to group member Lesley for preparing it. It is a lengthy one – possibly the longest we have posted – as there is a lot going on, both positive and negative, on this topic. Note as ever that China is not reported on as information about executions are a state secret. China is believed to execute more of its citizens than the rest of the world combined.

Death Penalty report: March – April


We are pleased to attach our monthly death penalty report for March – April 2022 thanks to group member Lesley for the work in compiling it. Singapore features quite strongly this month. Note that Chiana, which is believed to execute more of its citizens than the rest of the world combined, does not feature as details are a state secret.

Risk of execution – Saudi


Mohammed al-Faraj’s hearing was postponed  so he remains in prison in Saudi Arabia at risk of the death penalty. Mohammed was only 15 years old when he was arrested outside a bowling alley in Saudi Arabia. That was in 2017.

The fifth anniversary of his imprisonment is coming up.  He has endured five years away from his family. Five years away from his friends. And five years at risk of a death sentence.

When Mohammed was arrested, he was beaten, kicked and shackled with his arms above his head for up to four hours at a time. The Saudi Arabian authorities forced him to sign a “confession”.

The so-called “crimes” Mohammed committed included going to his uncle’s funeral when he was just nine years old. 20,136 people in this community signed the petition demanding Mohammed is not executed. Sending a message to Mohammed today will let him know we’re still fighting for him.

Will you let Mohammed know we’re thinking of him and fighting for his freedom?

Link to message

Repost from Reprieve

Formula 1 in Saudi


Can nothing stop the F1 circus?

Despite the enormous scale of death and destruction taking in place in Yemen by Saudi Arabia, the F1 Grand Prix still took place there (Saudi).  The Saudi regime is desperately keen to use sport as a means to whitewash its appalling human rights record.  Not only is it causing misery in Yemen but it has recently executed 81 people in a single day in Saudi itself almost certainly after torture was used to extract confessions.  Executions are usually carried out by beheading. 

There was a time when sport was confined to the back pages of newspapers or at the end of news bulletins.  It was about sport itself with reports of competitions, league tables or medals won.  The use of sport to promote nations has a long history and in recent times we have seen enormous sums spent by regimes to secure medals at the Olympics.  Recently, the notion of ‘sports washing’ has become established with Saudi Arabia a prominent player.  In addition to boxing promotions, golf and Formula 1, it has poured a huge sum into Newcastle United football club

A recent edition of the Campaign Against the Arms Trade, CAAT, newsletter (Issue 262) provides an update on the destruction in Yemen.  In November, the UN estimated that 377,000 will have died.  This would be the total to the end of 2021.  Unfortunately, they say, ‘the escalating death toll and overwhelming evidence of repeated breaches of international humanitarian law have done little to curb the arms dealers: to them it represent a business opportunity’.  Since the bombing of Yemen began in 2015, the value of UK sales to Saudi Arabia amounts to £20 billion.  Further details and background can be found on the Mwatana site.

CAAT reports that the UN failed to renew the mandate in October for the Group of Eminent Experts on Yemen following intense lobbying of council members by the Saudi regime.

Saudi Arabia

Human rights infringements continue in the country itself.  Critics of the government or ruling family are routinely jailed.  Prejudice against women and the LGBT community is practised.  Many people are executed in barbaric fashion after wholly unsatisfactory trials.  Reports from Human Rights Watch and Amnesty provide further details.

No impact on F1

None of this seems to have an impact on Formula 1.  It is interesting to note however that, following the invasion of Ukraine by Russian forces, the F1 race due to take place in Sochi this year was quickly cancelled.  It seems truly bizarre that they were able to act with great speed following the Ukraine invasion but prolonged death, destruction and egregious human rights abuses in Yemen and Saudi has not made any impression.  Could it be the considerable publicity the war has attracted and the actions being taken against Russian oligarchs meant that any attempt by F1 to carry on as usual was simply not possible?  Whereas, what is going on in Saudi and Yemen only rarely makes it onto the front pages thus enabling them to carry on with business as usual. 

Saudi is spending billions on its campaign to improve its image and holding various sporting events and some sporting authorities seem immune to what is going on.  It seems as though the lure of money – and lots of it – is too great.  They exist, as one commentator puts it, in a vacuum.  Perhaps we should not be too surprised at F1’s flimsy approach to human rights when its former boss Bernie Ecclestone was interviewed on Times Radio defending President Putin as an ‘honourable man’. 

Sources: HRW; Amnesty; Daily Express; Guardian; al Jazeera; BBC

Saudi executes 81 in one day


News that Saudi Arabia has executed 81 people in one day has shocked the world. Where or how is not known but the usual method is beheading. It surpasses the 63 executed in one day in 1979. So much for the reforms Mohammed bin Salman was supposed to be introducing.

The dead were unlikely to have received a fair trial. They would almost certainly have been tortured into providing confessions. Saudi television said that those executed had ‘followed the footsteps of Satan’.

The executions brings into sharp focus UK relations with the regime. Saudi is our biggest overseas buyer of weapons many of which are being used in the war in Yemen. While our news media is giving wall to wall coverage of the war in Ukraine, the bombing of Yemen hospitals, clinics, weddings and other communal events gets scant coverage. Tens of thousands have been killed, including many children, and cholera is endemic.

The prime minister, Boris Johnson, is due to visit the kingdom in the next few days to try and increase the supply of oil. One wonders if the executions and the outrage they have caused will feature in the discussions. A Reprieve action urging Johnson to cancel his trip is here. Saudi Arabia has invested in Newcastle Football Club.

A report by the European Saudi Organisation for Human Rights report on this can be accessed here. This organisation has been added to our list of contacts to be found at the bottom of the page.

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