The human rights activist, Loujain al-Hathloul, faces a lengthy jail term in Saudi Arabia for advocating the right of women to drive a car and for campaigning for the end of the male guardianship system.
In 2018, she was abducted and arrested for defying the ban on women driving and for her campaigning against the male guardianship system. She was held for many months incommunicado, and in prison was beaten, sexually assaulted, tortured with electric shocks and waterboarded. Human rights groups, including Amnesty, and the UN Human Rights Committee, have urged for her to be released.
The latest news is that at a hearing in a terrorism court, the judge said the sentence would be announced on Monday.
Prince Mohammed bin Salman claimed when he first assumed power, that he would reform the justice system in that country. There has been little sign of that since with arrests of opponents, routine use of torture, harsh crackdowns on anyone opposing the monarchy and widespread use of the death penalty. He faces little pressure to change however, with the UK and other western countries all too ready to fawn over the prince in their desire to secure lucrative arms deals. Astonishingly, the UK government was active behind the scenes in securing a place for Saudi on the UN’s Human Rights Council.
The women who campaigned for women to be able to drive in Saudi still in gaol
ACTION TODAY WEDNESDAY 24 JUNE
Next week marks two years since women in Saudi Arabia were finally granted the right to drive.
As part of his Vision 2030, Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman is working hard to be seen as the moderniser of Saudi Arabia, introducing a number of social reforms.
Meanwhile, thirteen Saudi women’s rights activists remain on trial for peacefully campaigning for the same reforms, including the right to drive. Five of them are still behind bars – including Loujain al-Hathloul, Samar Badawi and Nassima al-Sada.
We’re asking our supporters to take action together this Wednesday 24 June – the day women were granted the right to drive in Saudi Arabia in 2018, while these women’s rights defenders were locked up in prison charged with, among other things, “promoting women’s rights”.
Please share this horn graphic on social media with the following message:
I stand with #Saudi women rights activists who fought for the right to drive. It’s shameful they were locked up for demanding equality. Join me & @AmnestyUK calling on @KingSalman to release them & drop all charges: http://www.amnesty.org.uk/beepforfreedom #BeepForFreedom CC @SaudiEmbassyUK
WTO ruling puts sale of the club to a Saudi backed investment vehicle in doubt.
Strong local support for the Saudi investment
In a previous post we discussed the possible purchase of Newcastle United Football club by a consortium using Saudi funds. The consortium wishing to purchase the Newcastle Football club using Saudi money from their sovereign wealth fund is receiving strong local support. The local newspaper the Newcastle Chronicle has run several pieces discussing the various moves and bidding in the saga. A poll shows overwhelming support for the purchase:
The Newcastle United Supporters Trust has thrown its weight behind the potential takeover of the club after publishing a survey of members which showed overwhelming support for the buy out.
A Trust survey has found 96.7% of their members are in favour of the proposed takeover by Amanda Staveley’s PCP Capital Partners, along with the Reuben Brothers and the Saudi Arabian PiF. Mark Douglas, Chronicle, 25 April 2020
It is the comments pieces which are most revealing however. Supporters are passionate about their club and want it to do well, understandably so. They do not take kindly to doubts expressed by Amnesty or others about the wisdom of the take over. One writer sums up the situation well;
It would be hugely hypocritical and financially damaging if the government (which deals in billions of pound worth of arms with the Saudi’s) were to step in and put a stop to this deal going through. Why should NUFC be forced to act as a deterrent to the Saudi human rights. Organisations such as amnesty international (sic) and the UN have been unable to enforce any legal obligation on the Saudi’s so why should a football club be expected to do so. Both Amnesty and the UN should be able to enforce a political solution, and not try to use NUFC as leverage. We won’t be the first Premiership club to be owned by Saudi’s or another middle eastern domain, non (sic) of whom have good Human Rights reputations. I cannot believe for one minute that the government would have any legal right to block this deal and the FA have allowed other clubs to be purchased by Saudi’s previously so they have already set a precedence. NEWCASTLE500
He or she has a point. Saudi is the largest purchaser of arms from the UK. Royalty and a succession of ministers and prime ministers have paid court to the Saudis so why should NUFC forego a huge injection of cash when the government is obviously keen to do so? On 26 April 2020 it was revealed that the UK government has increased arms sales to regimes with a poor human rights record. Two wrongs do not make a right however. The British government is so ensnared in arms sales to Saudi that to stop would cause enormous damage to our arms industry and to our balance of payments. Small wonder the minister, Oliver Dowden, wants to keep well away from the problem. They Work for You reveals he generally votes against human rights and has voted for the abolition of the Human Rights Act.
If the Chronicle’s survey results reflect what people in Newcastle think, it is truly depressing. Is the only consideration the success or otherwise of their football club? The coverage also sought the opinions of past players who were also said to be enthusiastic.
Reading the Newcastle Chronicle pieces one would gain only small hints of the human rights situation in Saudi or what they are doing in Yemen. The pieces discuss the ins and outs of the deal largely to the exclusion of all else. If supporters read more of the nature of the money they are so keen to get their hands on, would they react differently?
Football has become enmeshed in money. Without huge budgets, no team can hope to win titles or afford to buy the best players. Has the desire for success and prestige corrupted the game? As Kate Allen, director of Amnesty put it:
The Premier League is putting itself at risk of becoming a patsy of those who want to use the Premier League to cover up actions that are deeply immoral, in breach of international law and at odds with the values of the global footballing community.
In a previous post we mentioned the case of Anthony Joshua, the boxer and the fight which took place in Saudi Arabia for which he received a multi-million pound purse.
Human rights groups were critical of his decision to fight there and said it was an example of Sportswash: using sport to try and sanitise a dubious regime. In the case of Saudi this involves executions by beheading; floggings; imprisoning opposition people, lawyers and human rights workers as well as their appalling bombing activities in Yemen.
Lo and behold, within days of this happening and the criticism which it produced, Joshua turns up on the Graham Norton Show on the BBC. This is a show which features actors and celebrities of various kinds who come on to promote their activities and seemingly have a good time. Joshua came on to great acclaim and was variously embraced and fawned over by the other guests. Joshua himself said at the time of the fight that he did not know about Amnesty as he was too busy training but one suspects that Graham Norton, his producers and production team know and must have been aware of the furore surrounding his fight in Saudi. Not a word was said about this.
So what do we call this? Is it Sportswash? The BBC has come in for an increasing amount of criticism for bias and to some extent this is understandable during an election. This is not bias however, it is simply not wanting to see. No doubt his promoters or PR people want to rehabilitate Joshua’s reputation – which took a knock – and what better than to parade him on a lightweight entertainment show like Graham Norton where no awkward questions were asked. But why did the BBC agree to this? Did the other guests know he was coming on and were they not concerned? If they were they did not show it with lots of kisses, backslapping and embracing – typical activity when celebs come together. We do not know of course if other potential guests were sickened by his presence and declined the gig.
So have the BBC been used as part of a plan to rehabilitate Anthony Joshua’s reputation? Is what is happening in Yemen and Saudi of so little interest to the BBC that inviting this man on for our entertainment matters more than the suffering of people in those two countries?
We are pleased to attach our latest monthly death penalty report compiled by group member Lesley. In addition to matters around the world, we mention worries about the Conservative government, if, as expected, they assume power on Friday after the election. The present Home Secretary, Priti Patel is committed to toughening sentencing and has said she wishes to see the reintroduction of the penalty in the UK. She denies that this is the case. We quote survey statistics to show that it is still a desired outcome for many people, especially for those who voted leave in the EU Referendum.
Note as ever that China is the world’s largest executioner of its citizens but the data is a state secret.
and armaments, it has carried out a bombing campaign in that country with little regard to international human rights law. Schools, hospitals, wedding ceremonies and civilian areas generally have been bombed sometimes using what is called ‘double tap’ that is, going in for a second time when the aid workers arrive causing extra mayhem.
Human rights are low on the agenda with floggings, torture, amputations and executions the norm. There have been 148 executions so far this year. Women’s rights activists, lawyers and members of the Shia minority have all been targeted. But never mind, there’s money to be made in them there dunes so lets go for it.
There has been a wide range of criticism of the boxer himself and the promoters, Matchroom Sport for taking the Saudi shilling for this event thus taking part in an attempt to sanitise the regime. They denied the charge that they were sportswashing.
Never mind the stonings, public executions, or human rights, Eddie Hearn is more than happy to follow the money
Daily Telegraph, 16 August (Eddie Hearn is Joshua’s promoter)
What does Anthony Joshua himself say? He is reported not to have known who Amnesty International was saying in a BBC interview that he spent most of his time in Finchley training.
I appreciate them [Amnesty] voicing an opinion. And it’s good to talk about issues in the world. But I’m there to fight. If I want to put on my cape where I’m going to save the world, we all have to do it together. The questions and the things that are happening in the world in general can’t be left to one man to solve. We all have to make a difference.”
I’ve actually been to Saudi Arabia and I’m building a relationship, Some of the questions that the world has to ask, maybe I could be a spokesman? It’s a blessing and they can speak back. And that’s relationship building, rather than just accusing, pointing fingers and shouting from Great Britain. In order to ask questions, and people that may want to make change, you have to go and get involved. Daily Telegraph 6 September 2019
Matchroom’s site makes only scant mention of the human rights aspect. “We are an independent company of passionate individuals” it tells us on its site: presumably the passion is confined to sport.
Of course, Joshua is not the first and certainly not the last to be involved in the process of sportwashing regimes such as Saudi Arabia. His ‘crime’ of agreeing to fight in the kingdom does not compare with the UK government’s support and agreeing to the supply of arms to this regime over many years. Members of the Royal Family have been happy to get engaged with a fellow royal family.
The difference is that this fight will have been seen by millions hence the purse of £40 million that Joshua will earn (there are other higher figures). Those millions of viewers are likely to be left with an impression that it is all right to engage with such a regime. But they have been willing stooges in the process of trying to sanitise them and its attempts to make a comeback after the murder of Khashoggi.
Sport has had its fair share of scandals. Doping, cheating, bribery: a seemingly endless stream of less than salubrious behaviour. FIFA and the Olympics are replete with corruption. To many, Joshua is a hero and on the sporting front he no doubt is. But as a hero he has a responsibility, as do those behind him, to recognise the influence he has on followers. Some day, the sporting fraternity are going to have to recognise the role they play in shaping people’s – particularly young people’s – minds and the influence they have. And that may mean saying ‘no’ to performing in a country where women have few rights and are imprisoned for seeking them, where torture is a way of life, and hacking off heads and limbs part of the legal system. Good way to earn £40 million.
Last word to Matchroom:
We got criticized for coming here but these people have been amazing. The vision they have for boxing in this region is incredible and they delivered. [Accessed 8 December]
Saudi Arabia: boy arrested aged 13 at risk of execution
Murtaja Qureiris was held in solitary confinement and subjected to beatings during his interrogation. Murtaja Qureiris faces possible execution for offences which date back to when he was just ten years old. CNN footage shows him taking part in bike protest with other young boys in Shi’a Eastern Province in 2011.
Amnesty International is calling for the Saudi Arabian authorities to rule out the use of the death penalty against a teenager arrested at the age of 13 for participating in anti-government protests. CNN this week revealed he was facing the death penalty and published video footage showing Murtaja Qureiris participating in bike protests in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province as a young boy in 2011.
Amnesty has confirmed that Saudi Arabia’s Public Prosecution sought the death penalty for Murtaja Qureiris last August for a series of offences, some of which date back to when the teenager was just ten years old. Qureiris, now aged 18, was arrested in September 2014 and detained in a juvenile detention centre in al-Dammam city. He was held in solitary confinement for a month, and subjected to beatings and intimidation during his interrogation. His interrogators promised to release him if he confessed to charges against him. In May 2017, he was moved to al-Mabaheth prison in al-Dammam, an adult facility, even though he was still only 16.
Throughout his detention, Qureiris was denied access to a lawyer until after his first court session in August 2018. This was held at the country’s notorious Specialised Criminal Court, an anti-terrorism court set up in 2008 and increasingly used for cases involving human rights activists and protesters.
The charges against Murtaja Qureiris include participating in anti-government protests; attending the funeral of his brother Ali Qureiris who was killed in a protest in 2011; joining a “terrorist organisation;” throwing Molotov cocktails at a police station, and firing at security forces. He is currently awaiting his next trial session. Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty International’s Middle East Research Director, said:
It is appalling that Murtaja Qureiris is facing execution for offences that include taking part in protests while he was just ten years old.
The Saudi Arabian authorities have a chilling track record of using the death penalty as a weapon to crush political dissent and punish anti-government protesters – including children – from the country’s persecuted Shi’a minority.
Instead of stepping up their use of the death penalty to silence critics.
There should be no doubt that the Saudi Arabian authorities are ready to go to any length to crack down on dissent against their own citizens, including by resorting to the death penalty for men who were merely boys at the time of their arrest.”
Persecution of Shi’as in the Eastern Province
Since 2011, the authorities have cracked down on successive waves of protests by the Shi’a minority in the country’s Eastern Province. In April this year, Amnesty confirmed the execution of Abdulkareem al-Hawaj, a young Shi’a man arrested aged 16 and convicted of offences related to his involvement in anti-government protests. He was among 37 men put to death in one day as part of a gruesome execution spree. Three other Shi’a men – Ali al-Nimr, Abdullah al-Zaher and Dawood al-Marhoon, who were arrested in 2012 aged 17, 16 and 17 respectively in connection with their involvement in anti-government protests – are at risk of being executed at any time.
Since 2014, more than 100 Shi’a Saudis have been tried before the Specialised Criminal Court on vague and wide-ranging charges arising from their opposition to the government, including peaceful criticism of the authorities. Amnesty has documented that a number of these have involved grossly unfair trials, with defendants convicted and – in many cases – sentenced to death on vague charges that criminalise peaceful opposition, and on the basis of “confessions” extracted through torture or other coercive means.
Saudi Arabia has an appalling record of using the death penalty – including against children – after grossly unfair trials that rely on confessions extracted through torture. The use of the death penalty for offences allegedly committed by people under 18 is strictly prohibited by international law. Amnesty opposes the death penalty in all circumstances without exception.
Source: Amnesty press release.
Amnesty is hosting a talk by Paul Mason on 24th June. If you want to join us, this would be a good time to make yourself known. UPDATE: We regret to say this event has been cancelled.
Attached is the current death penalty report thanks to group member Lesley for the work in compiling it. Grim news on several fronts with Sri Lanka thinking of re-using the penalty. China leads the world it is believed in the use of the penalty although details are a state secret.
On the issue of China, readers may like to read the website of the Chinese Human Rights Defenders which charts the systematic denial of human rights freedoms by the Chinese government. Links to many human rights sites can be found at the bottom of this site.
The Court of Appeal has granted permission for Campaign Against the Arms Trade to appeal the legality of arms sales to Saudi Arabia
The destruction of Yemen continues and our role in that destruction becomes ever more clear as time passes. The case brought by CAAT failed and it is welcome news that the Appeal Court has allowed an appeal. The decision was profoundly flawed and needs to be challenged. It raised disturbing questions, not just about our role in the bombing of Yemen, but how our supposedly independent legal system operates in cases like this.
statements by the government were taken at face value despite claims that the case would be looked at objectively
the judges regarded evidence from NGOs as necessarily being of lesser value than the government’s arguments. They said they were ‘second hand’ despite the fact that the NGOs had representatives on the ground and had collected considerable first hand evidence of what was happening
the close relations the government has with the Saudi government (to which we could add many members of the Royal family) puts them in a good position, it was claimed, to take statements by the Saudis at face value namely that they were compliant with International Human Rights standards
the court took no account of the stake the government has in the trade namely that 46% of our arms exports are going to this country. That this might bias their case was not something that the judges seemed to consider. Indeed, they went further pointing to the ‘highly sophisticated, structured and multi-faceted process’ of government decision taking in comparison with that of the press and NGOs. Altogether, the judges exhibited an unduly deferential approach to the government
But perhaps the most disgraceful aspect of their judgement was the issue of ‘inference’. This argument centred on the idea that it was not necessary or practical for the government to infer that civilian causalities and breaches of IHL arose from the supply of weaponry to the Saudis. Because this destruction was taking place in another country, it was not practical for the Secretary of State to have access to all the relevant information. So on the one hand, the judges say that the government has a superior and sophisticated decision making process compared to that of the NGOs and media, but on the other hand, when civilians are killed, suddenly they are not in a position to know it was our weapons which were involved.
There are other criticisms of the judgment and the dubious logic on which it was based. Overall, they seemed to adopt a unduly deferential approach to the government’s position.
In another development the Committee on Arms Export Controls criticized many aspects of the government’s dealings with arms supplies to the region. One key aspect is the question of brokerage. This is where a company, registered in the UK, uses a broker to circumvent the controls on the sale of arms. The Committee concluded:
The Committees conclude that it is a significant loophole in UK arms export controls that a UK company can circumvent those controls by exporting military and dual–use goods using an overseas subsidiary. The Committees recommend that the Government states whether it will close this loophole, and, if so, by what means and in what timescale.
The Committees continue to conclude that it is most regrettable that the Government have still to take any action against “Brass Plate” arms exporting companies who have the benefit of UK company registration but carry out arms exporting and arms brokering activities overseas in contravention of UK Government policies. 35 The Committees’ Recommendation: The Committees again recommend that the Government sets out in its Response to this Report what steps it will take to discontinue the UK registration of such companies [Extracts from the Select Committee Report]
The government does not accept the committee’s conclusions on this matter.
Currently, the sale of arms is governed by the Arms Trade Treaty and the Consolidated EU and National Arms Export Licensing Criteria. It is clear from the opinion of the sub committee, CAAT and other NGOs that the government is using every stratagem to sell arms to Saudi and to keep on doing so. Royalty and ministers are pressed into service to keep the Saudi regime sweet. The effects of our arms – and those of other arms suppliers such as the USA – on the people of Yemen has been devastating. With 10,000 deaths and many more thousands injured and displaced, it is a calamity on a massive scale. We must hope that the higher court will overturn the highly dubious and flawed decision.
Either way, it is likely that Brexit will lead to a reduction in the EU’s ability to promote its standards in the field of export controls internationally. […] If Brexit means the UK starts to water down its export controls in order to facilitate transfers to Saudi Arabia, or otherwise boost its arms exports, the implications may be more severe. Such a move could trigger a ‘race to the bottom’ among EU member states, many of which are seeking to boost their own arms exports in order to help domestic producers offset the impact of post-2008 national defence cuts.
Let us hope they are wrong. It is likely however that post Brexit, there will be a keen desire to secure trade deals – to include arms sales – with any foreign nation including those with poor human rights records.