(Human Rights Watch) – (Beirut) – The Saudi government has spent billions of dollars hosting major entertainment, cultural, and sporting events as a deliberate strategy to deflect from the country’s image as a pervasive human rights violator, Human Rights Watch said today. On October 2, 2020, Human Rights Watch launched a global campaign to counter Saudi government efforts to whitewash its dismal rights record.
The two years since the brutal murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi agents in October 2018 has brought no accountability for top-level officials implicated in the murder. Since then, the government of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has aggressively organized and bankrolled high-profile events featuring major international artists, celebrities, and sports figures, with plans for many more. Saudi Arabia also currently holds the presidency of the G20, a forum for international economic cooperation, and will host the G20 leaders’ summit in late November.
“Saudi citizens and residents should enjoy top-notch entertainment and sporting events, but they also should enjoy basic rights such as free expression and peaceful assembly,” said Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “So, when Hollywood A-listers, international athletes, and other global celebrities take government money to perform in Saudi Arabia while staying silent on the government’s atrocious rights record, they are boosting the kingdom’s strategy of whitewashing Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman’s abuses.”
The investment in major entertainment, cultural, and sports events is tied to Mohammed bin Salman’s Vision 2030, a plan to overhaul the country’s economy and attract foreign investors and tourists. Among the programs it has developed to realize its vision is one focused on creating more leisure and recreational options to “enhance the image of the Kingdom internationally.”
Under Vision 2030, Saudi Arabia has invested heavily in creating a local entertainment industry and attracting top talent from across the globe. In May 2016, it created the General Entertainment Authority, with plans to invest US$64 billion in music, entertainment, sports, art, and film, among others. The Sports, Tourism, and Culture ministries are also involved.