Dear Mr Howe,
My name is Ahmad al-Rabea, and I would like to tell you about my dear brother, Hassan, who was recently deported from Morocco to Saudi Arabia. He will be facing torture, unfair trial and maybe even the death penalty in the country that owns your football club.
I want to tell you and the Newcastle United players that sportswashing kills. Mohammed bin Salman’s (MBS) regime has invested billions of dollars in trying to whitewash its global image by promoting sports events and buying football teams like yours, while at the same time doubling the rate of executions back home since 2015.
I know that Newcastle are having a successful season, and it’s easy to ignore other issues when you are winning football matches. But some things are bigger than football, and Newcastle United’s success cannot be built off the back of a state that has executed more than 1,000 people since King Salman and his son MBS came to power eight years ago.
Since Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund bought Newcastle United in October 2021, Saudi Arabia has executed 157 people, including children. Many of those who were executed were also football fans. At the same time dozens have been arbitrarily arrested and sentenced to up to 90 years in jail for exercising freedom of speech on social media.
My brother Hassan was abducted at Marrakech Airport on 14 January 2023 while he tried to travel to Turkey. When he legally left Saudi Arabia a year and two months ago he was not wanted by the Saudi security services. He travelled around several countries in Asia before arriving in Morocco, where he stayed for about five months. Then he was seized.
Hassan left Saudi Arabia because our family was being persecuted by the regime. Saudi security forces launched several raids to arrest our brother Munir and arbitrarily arrested our other brother, Ali.
Ali has recently been sentenced to death for speaking out against the Saudi regime. I fear that Hassan has been arrested and deported to Saudi Arabia to face the same penalty.
Saudi Arabian sportswashing is an attempt to cover up these crimes and the dark and oppressive reality of the Saudi regime. They are trying to distract the world from their human rights abuses, painting a positive picture of the country through association with sport and encouraging other states to cooperate and collaborate with Saudi Arabia.
But the actions of the regime are devastating: arbitrary arrest, torture, and deprivation of the right to liberty and life. For example, Salma al-Shehab and Nourah al-Qahtani have been jailed for 34 and 45 years just for tweeting. All of this should not be covered up with money, games, sports and celebrities.
You may think that in your position you cannot change the behaviour of governments. I don't believe this is true. The truth is that your club is owned by a repressive regime and you and your players are employed by them. If you say nothing about the gross human rights abuses and violations we are suffering then this is an acceptance of these violations. If you speak out against them you can save lives.
You can make a difference, Mr Howe. Newcastle United’s players and fans can, too. We know you don't support the atrocities carried out by the owners of the club. But if you spoke up for the young people on death row, and for my brother, you would be heard by the Saudi regime. It may be comforting to tell yourself there is nothing you can do, but it is not true.
If not now, then when?