When Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) completed the takeover of Newcastle United in October 2021, Newcastle Central MP Chi Onwurah stated that “If you think the Newcastle United takeover will stop me criticising the Saudi Regime you don't know me and you don't know Newcastle.”
Onwurah also issued a statement saying that “many of us are horrified by the human rights record of Saudi Arabia which stands in direct opposition to the values of our city.” She also said that “I understand the new owners believe this investment is a sign of change and a desire to open up on the part of Saudi Arabia and I hope that is true.”
However, since then Saudi Arabia’s human rights record has only deteriorated.
On 22nd November 2022, the UN announced that Saudi Arabia had executed 17 men for drugs and contraband offenses. The executions had taken place over a 12 day period beginning on 10th November, bringing the total number of executions carried out by the state this year to 144.
The killings mark the end of an official 21 month moratorium on the imposition of the death penalty for drugs-related offences. UN spokesperson Liz Throssell said:
“The resumption of executions for drug-related offences in Saudi Arabia is a deeply regrettable step, all the more so coming just days after a wide majority of States in the UN General Assembly called for a moratorium on the death penalty worldwide”.
Ms. Throssell also stressed that imposing the death penalty for drug offences is incompatible with international norms and standards.
Human rights groups ALQST and FairSquare recently wrote to Chi Onwurah, as well as fellow North East Labour MPs Ian Mearns and Kate Osborne, urging them to speak out on the issue of Saudi human rights abuses.
Onwurah has previously criticised Saudi Arabia in October 2018. Following the murder of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, she stated in Parliament that “responsibility for the murder must lie with the autocratic ruler of … a murderous state.” She also wrote that “our government should take immediate action to halt arms sales”
But neither Onwurah nor any other North East MPs have voiced any public criticism of Saudi Arabia since PIF completed the takeover.
On 3rd November 2021, Newcastle city council announced the decision to end links with its twin city in China over the country’s “horrific” human rights abuses. Council leaders severed the relationship with the city of Taiyuan, which has been twinned with Newcastle since the 1980s.
But in August 2020, the council’s Chief Executive Pat Ritchie had spoken in favour of the Saudi led takeover, offering to meet the Premier League in a bid to get the deal completed. Ritchie has since stepped down, but neither her successor nor anyone else from the council has ever voiced any criticism towards Newcastle United’s new ownership. The double standards are striking.
Surely it is time for Newcastle City Council to examine their ties with the owners of Newcastle United? Labour politicians in the North East should be condemning this latest killing spree carried out by the Saudi state, who are now linked to Newcastle United.
As Newcastle United are preparing to visit Saudi Arabia again during the World Cup, NUFC Fans Against Sportswashing appeals to MPs, councillors and fan groups to speak out urgently. We cannot allow the Saudi regime to use our football club to divert attention away from these gross human rights abuses and the internationally illegal use of the death penalty.