Amnesty urge Premier League to consider human rights amid Saudi-led Newcastle takeover talk

The Premier League has been urged to consider Saudi Arabia's human rights record as the state's Public Investment Fund reportedly nears taking control of Newcastle United.

The deal would see the consortium, chaired by Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman, take an 80% stake in the club.

Amnesty International has spoken out against the takeover attempt previously but are using today's developments to urge the Premier League to reform its owners’ and directors’ test - which outlines the criteria prospective owners and directors of football clubs must meet.

  • Amnesty UK's business and human rights expert Peter Frankental

"Instead of allowing those implicated in serious human rights violations to walk into English football simply because they have deep pockets, we've urged the Premier League to change their owners' and directors' test to address human rights issues," said Amnesty UK chief executive Sacha Deshmukh said in a statement.

"Saudi ownership of St James' Park was always as much about image management for Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman and his government as it was about football," he continued.

Amnesty International accuses Saudi Arabia of the following human rights abuses: lack of key freedoms, the imprisonment of human rights defenders, unfair trials, the imposition of the death penalty, flogging punishments, discrimination against women and LGBTI peoples, and a lack of migrants' rights.

Human Rights Watch have also criticised the state's human rights record.

Amnesty International 2020 human rights report on Saudi Arabia

Conflict in Yemen

  • "The Saudi Arabia-led coalition in the long-running armed conflict in Yemen continued to be implicated in war crimes and other serious violations of international law."

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Freedoms of expression, association and assembly

  • "The authorities escalated repression of the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly, including through a crackdown on online expression and undue restrictions on freedom of expression related to the government’s responses to the COVID-19 pandemic."

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Human rights defenders

  • "The authorities arbitrarily detained, prosecuted and imprisoned human rights defenders and family members of women’s rights activists for their peaceful activities and human rights work, including under the Counter-Terrorism Law and Anti-Cyber Crime Law.

  • "By the end of the year, virtually all Saudi Arabian human rights defenders were in detention without charge, or were on trial or serving prison terms."

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Unfair trials

  • "Grossly unfair trials continued before the SCC, a counter-terror court notorious for due process violations including mass trials."

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Death penalty

  • "Courts continued to impose death sentences, and carried out scores of executions for a wide range of crimes.

  • "The authorities failed to abide by international fair trial standards in capital cases, often holding summary proceedings in secret and without allowing defendants access to representation or legal assistance.

  • "Foreign nationals often did not have access to translation services throughout the various stages of detention and trial."

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Corporal judicial punishment

  • "In April, the Minister of Justice issued a circular to all courts to implement the Supreme Court’s decision to end discretionary flogging punishments and replace them with prison sentences and/or fines.

  • "Flogging continued in cases where the punishment is mandatory under Shari’a."

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Women and girls’ rights

  • "Women and girls continued to face discrimination in law and practice in relation to marriage, divorce and inheritance, and remained inadequately protected from sexual and other forms of violence.

  • "Those who had experienced domestic abuse continued to need a male guardian’s permission to leave shelters.

  • "In a positive development, also in July, a court ruled that “an adult, rational woman living independently is not a crime” in the case of Maryam al-Otaibi, a Saudi Arabian woman on trial in a case filed by her father – also her legal guardian – for leaving her family home."

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Rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people

  • “Homosexuality remained prohibited in Saudi Arabia, punishable by flogging and imprisonment."

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Migrants’ rights

  • "The approximately 10 million migrant workers in Saudi Arabia continued to be governed by the kafala (sponsorship) system, which gives employers disproportionate powers over them and prevents them from leaving the country or changing jobs without the permission of their employers, increasing their vulnerability to labour abuses and exploitation.

  • "During the COVID-19 pandemic, this situation – alongside dire living conditions, scarce legal protection and limited access to preventive health care and treatment – put migrant workers in an even more vulnerable position and at higher risk from COVID-19.

  • "From March onwards, thousands of Ethiopian migrants, including pregnant women and children, were arbitrarily detained in harsh conditions in at least five detention centres across the country.

  • "Detainees said that they lacked adequate food, water, health care, sanitation facilities and clothes. Cells were severely overcrowded and prisoners could not go outside. The specific needs of pregnant and lactating women were not addressed.

  • "Newborn babies, infants and teenagers were detained in the same dire conditions as adults."

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"Under Mohammed Bin Salman, the human rights situation in Saudi Arabia remains dire - with government critics, women's rights campaigners, Shia activists and human defenders still being harassed and jailed, often after blatantly unfair trials."

"The closed-door trial of Jamal Khashoggi's alleged killers was widely perceived to be a part of a wider whitewash by the authorities, and Saudi Arabia is accused of a catalogue of crimes under international humanitarian law during the long conflict in Yemen."

Dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi was killed at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018. Credit: Johnny Green/PA

  • Khashoggi's fiancée, Hatice Cengiz, speaking in 2020.

"Only a few days after the third anniversary of Jamal's murder, it is horrifying to learn that the Crown Prince is about to get what he wants. It seems money is more valuable than humanity and decency," said Ms Cengiz before the deal was brokered.

"The Premier League should not cave in now - this is the moment to show courage and principle - nothing has changed in reality. It will show the killers that they cannot hide their crimes. The League needs to lead by example for the football fans and all people to say no to murder.

Mr Deshmukh went on to call for the Premier League to introduce a human rights element to their owners' and directors' test.

"As with Formula One, elite boxing, golf or tennis, an association with top-tier football is a very attractive means of rebranding a country or person with a tarnished reputation.

"The Premier League needs to better understand the dynamic of sportswashing and tighten its ownership rules."