Saudi Arabia’s first-ever women’s golf tournament, hosted by the Ladies European Tour, is set to take place March 19-22 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 inform her of the disastrous human rights and women’s rights situation in Saudi Arabia. This letter clarifies the role that Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) and his regime have played in violating the rights of millions of Saudis, and requests that the Ladies European Tour consider its opportunity to positively influence human rights policy in Saudi Arabia.
English golfer Meghan MacLaren has already declined to participate in the Saudi Ladies Tournament and said, “We take for granted a lot of the choices and freedom we have available to us, but I try to make my decisions based on who I am as a person, not just a golfer. 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.”
Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy whose de facto dictator, MBS, brutally silences anyone who dares to criticize his policies or call for reform. Since coming to power in June 2017, MBS has spearheaded a crackdown on human rights, especially those of the women in his Kingdom. He has systematically eliminated many of his political opponents and introduced legal measures to criminalize peaceful dissent. The government makes frequent use of the death penalty, and its archaic and barbaric methods of execution include decapitation, crucifixion, and stoning to death. In 2019, more than 180 people were executed, six of whom were minors at the time of their arrest.
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.”
The Saudi Arabian government is among the world’s worst violators of basic individual rights, in particular the right to freedom of opinion and expression. The Kingdom scored the worst possible grade in Freedom House’s 2019 Freedom in the World index, which focuses on civil liberties and political rights. MBS’ crackdown on human rights has recently intensified with the jailing of hundreds of journalists, civil society members, activists, and intellectuals, many of whom have been detained for months without being charged. The number of asylum seekers has almost doubled since MBS took power.
At the same time, a major public relations campaign is underway in Saudi Arabia, seeking to whitewash its reputation as a modern, global power instead of a repressive, murderous regime. A major component of this effort involves the funding of sporting and entertainment events. MBS hopes to use and manipulate this tournament’s 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, we urge the Ladies European Tour to use their platform to advance human rights in Saudi Arabia and contribute to a mission of increasing global democratic freedoms.
This will be the first-ever golf tournament for women in Saudi Arabia, and female players would likely be prohibited from wearing skirts or shorts during the tournament as Saudi Arabia is by far one of the most patriarchal societies in the world and systematically violates women’s rights. Legally, women are second class citizens: because of the regime’s male guardianship system, women cannot work, register for school, check into a hospital, get married, or exit prison without permission from a male relative. MBS’ regime has arrested the peaceful women’s rights activists who advocated against the infamous driving ban for women.
While some activists have been released, others, including Loujain al-Hathloul, Samar Badawi, Nassima al-Sadah and Nouf Abdulaziz, are still suffering in prison. They have been subjected to torture that includes – but is most certainly not limited to – electric shocks, flogging, sexual abuse, and prolonged solitary confinement.
LET’s decision to hold this event in Saudi Arabia severely undermines its support of women’s rights. If the Ladies European Tour moves forward with this event, the organization will be indisputably complicit in the repressive Saudi regime’s attempt to detract attention away from the country’s dire human rights situation, not to mention in league with the very people who respond to an individual’s freedom of thought, with torture and even murder.
A number of other golfers, including Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods, have also declined to participate in golf tournaments in Saudi Arabia, noting their concerns about the abuse of human rights.
HRF implores the Ladies European Tour to urgently consider cancelling this event.
The Human Rights Foundation (HRF) is a nonpartisan nonprofit organization that promotes and protects human rights globally, with a focus on closed societies.