Paris – As the world’s most famous off-road endurance race, the Dakar Rally rolls into its fifth day and hundreds of countries tune in to watch the event take place across beautiful landscapes, thousands of dissidents, human rights defenders and innocents continue to languish in Saudi prisons, without access to legal redress and contact with the outside world.
The Paris-Dakar Rally organized by the French Amaury Sport Organisation, is an annual off-road endurance rally taking place in Saudi Arabia from January 5 to 17, 2020. Amaury Sport Organisation have signed a contract promising Saudi Arabia will host the event for the next five years.
The Francophone Association for Human Rights (AFDH) is concerned that Saudi Arabia is using the 2020 Dakar Rally as part of an extensive public relations campaign to improve their current image and influence the tourism sector in the kingdom instead of addressing the country’s multiple human rights violations.
AFDH said in a statement today, “It is our hope that Saudi Arabia can indeed develop its tourism sector as this will not only develop the kingdom’s economy but also become a novel way in which the inhabitants of the kingdom can interact with other cultures. However we cannot help but be dismayed by the obvious way in which the kingdom is ‘sports-washing’ and exploiting this noble goal to try to play down its unflattering human rights record.”
In recent years, the Kingdom has received severe international scrutiny for its human rights record after the heinous murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in October 2018. The government has repeatedly shown an intolerance towards human rights defenders by arbitrarily arresting, torturing and sentencing them for their peaceful activism. In 2018, Saudi Arabia conducted a nationwide crackdown on Saudi women activists challenging the prejudiced male guardianship system by peacefully campaigning their right to drive. Loujain al-Hathloul and Samar Badawi, Nassima al-Sadah, Nouf Abdulaziz and dozens of activists were detained and many have reported to have been tortured while in detention, including flogging, electric shocks, sexual harassment, solitary confinement and other ill-physical treatment during interrogation. While some women have been temporarily released, many remain on trial for their activism.
Whilst these women activists suffer in prison after advocating for their right to drive, 13 female drivers are participating in the 2020 Dakar Rally.
Saudi Arabia has made some limited progress on demolishing the male guardianship system and improving human rights; it now allows for women to drive and is open to change, though not when it comes to its autocratic system. AFDH said in a statement, “Saudi Arabia can be termed the ultimate prototype of the dual state in which one part of the government interacts with the rest of the world as a legitimate and law abiding entity while another part of that same government oppresses its detractors and participates in war crimes such as the ongoing war in Yemen.”
The Saudi government claims that the Dakar Rally will show the world the true face of the kingdom, if so, it is a face veiled by the country’s human rights record and bloody war in Yemen.
The Amaury Sport Organisation should rethink their position on holding prestigious international sporting events in countries that are culpable of gross human rights abuses, and a human rights policy should be adopted to ensure accountability for abusive records.
AFDH also encourages media outlets covering the event to create a realistic picture of Saudi Arabia in their programming, including the undoubted natural beauty of the land but also its less inspiring human rights abuses. We believe, “People are free to make the kingdom their tourist destination of choice however that choice must be an informed one, and it is the duty of the media to provide balanced and comprehensive information to the public, instead of portraying the Saudi’s preferred point of view.”
AFDH calls upon the Dakar community, organisers, media outlets, sponsors, government institutions, businesses, athletes and supporters to urge the Saudi authorities to release immediately and unconditionally all of the Saudi women’s rights activists detained for their peaceful activism, and take a stand and help fight the regime’s public relations campaign by highlighting the true face of Saudi Arabia.