NEW YORK — While women’s rights activists languish in prison, Saudi Arabia is preparing to host its first-ever women’s golf tournament. Presented by the Ladies European Tour (LET), this competition is set to take place November 12-19, 2020 at the Royal Greens Golf & Country Club in Jeddah.
In response, the Human Rights Foundation has sent a letter to Ladies European Tour CEO Alexandra Armas to request that LET considers the opportunity to positively influence Saudia Arabia’s appalling human rights situation by withdrawing from the tournament.
This is the second appeal issued by HRF to LET, following a February letter calling for the cancelation of the tournament, which was originally scheduled for March 2020 before being postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The new letter highlights how the Saudi regime, despite trumpeting reforms and more rights and freedoms for women, continues to viciously persecute women’s rights advocates. This letter also clarifies the strategy of Mohammed bin Salman’s regime’s investments in reputable organizations, such as LET, to whitewash its crimes, and demonstrates how international sporting and entertainment events in the Kingdom have not led to significant “opening up” for women in Saudi Arabia.
HRF believes that holding these women’s golf events in Saudi Arabia severely undermines LET’s support of women’s rights. For example, as a result of LET’s compromise with Saudi authorities, female players will be prohibited from wearing skirts or shorts during the tournament. Outside the confines of the tournament, the Kingdom’s male guardian system prohibits Saudi women from working, registering for school, checking into a hospital, getting married, or exiting prison without permission from a male relative.
Worse, several Saudi women’s rights activists, including Loujain al-Hathloul, Samar Badawi, Nassima al-Sadah, and Nouf Abdulaziz, are currently in prison for having peacefully campaigned against this system, which legally makes them second class citizens. They have been subjected to torture that includes — but is most certainly not limited to — electric shocks, flogging, sexual abuse, and prolonged solitary confinement.
Accordingly, HRF believes that holding this event in Saudi Arabia puts LET in league with people who respond to an individual’s freedom of thought with torture and even murder. Saudi Arabia remains an absolute monarchy whose de facto dictator, MBS, brutally silences anyone who dares to criticize his policies or call for reform.
The barbaric murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi and the cover-up of the crime is perhaps the most brazen example of the extreme violence that MBS exerts in order to silence his critics. The UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Agnès Callamard, investigated the murder and concluded that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is irrefutably responsible for the crime, and called on corporations and organizations to “establish explicit policies to avoid entering into deals with businesses, business people, and organs of the State that have had a direct or indirect role in Khashoggi’s execution or other grave human rights violations.”
Several pro-golfers have echoed human rights concerns about playing golf in Saudi Arabia, including Meghan MacLaren, Tiger Woods, and Rory McIlroy. “It’s obviously a huge tournament for us, but this to me is about more than golf. I wish sport as a whole looked through a lens deeper than what benefits itself,” MacLaren said.
The Ladies European Tour has tremendous media influence. MBS hopes to use and manipulate that influence — as he repeatedly does with numerous organizations, music festivals, and business summits — to bolster his own reputation and regain credibility, both locally and abroad. Instead, HRF reiterates its call to the Ladies European Tour to fulfill its commitment to celebrating women’s rights and supporting local communities by urgently considering canceling this event, and using its platform to positively influence women’s rights in Saudia Arabia.
The Human Rights Foundation (HRF) is a nonpartisan nonprofit organization that promotes and protects human rights globally, with a focus on closed societies. For interview requests of further comment, please email [email protected].