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Saudi Arabia: Grand Prix must not deflect attention from dismal human rights record

At least 39 people currently jailed for their peaceful criticism of the authorities

Executions ramped up since G20 last year

‘The Saudi Arabia authorities need to realise that the best PR comes from respecting human rights’ - Heba Morayef

Ahead of the inaugural Formula One Grand Prix in Jeddah in Saudi Arabia this weekend, Heba Morayef, Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Regional Director, said:

“Over the last few years, the Saudi Arabian authorities have invested heavily in PR stunts to rebrand their image and attempt to deflect attention from their brutal crackdown on activists and human rights defenders. 

“Although we saw a brief lull in executions and prosecutions of activists during Saudi Arabia’s presidency of the G20 summit, that ended immediately after the event when the authorities ramped up their repression once again. 

“The Saudi Arabia authorities need to realise that the best PR comes from respecting human rights. 

“If the authorities want to be perceived differently, they should immediately and unconditionally release all those incarcerated for peacefully expressing their views, lift all travel bans and impose a moratorium on the death penalty. 

“Foreign governments wishing to deepen their relations with Saudi Arabia should urge the authorities to address their egregious human rights record. 

“Any company holding major events in Saudi Arabia must identify, mitigate or prevent any human right abuses that it may cause, contribute to or be directly linked to through its operations, products and services, including Formula 1 and its Grand Prix races.”

Renewed crackdown

In December 2020, shortly after the end of the G20 Summit which it hosted, the Saudi authorities resumed their crackdown on freedom of expression, targeting human rights defenders as well as anyone who had expressed views critical of the Government. After an 85% fall in recorded executions in 2020, at least 40 people were put to death between January and July 2021 - more than during all of 2020. On 15 June, the Saudi authorities executed Mustafa al-Darwish, a young man who was arrested in 2015 for allegedly participating in anti-government protests in the Eastern Province, following a grossly unfair trial.

Amnesty has documented the cases of at least 64 individuals prosecuted for exercising their rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly between 2013 and 2021. To date, 39 remain imprisoned, while others were conditionally released only recently after serving their sentences or are awaiting trial for charges related to their views and human rights work. They include human rights defenders, peaceful political activists, journalists, poets and clerics. Their conditions of release include long travel bans.

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