MENA Rights Group and the Freedom Initiative are among nineteen NGOs calling on golf's Ladies European Tour to reconsider the decision to hold a tournament hosted by Saudi Arabia. Pulling out of the tournament, they explain, would be ab act of solidarity with women's rights campaigners detained in the Kingdom.
"While we acknowledge that such tournaments represent an important milestone in women's golf, we are deeply concerned that Saudi Arabia is using this sports event as a public relations tool to sportwash its appalling human rights record, including discrimination against women and the crackdown on women's rights defenders," said the NGOs in a letter to the tour organisers.
The event is due to take place in Saudi Arabia from 12 to 19 November, with a cash prize of $1.5 million from the Saudi Public Investment Fund, which is chaired by Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman.
Saudi Arabia has faced sustained criticism that it uses major sporting tournaments to deflect from its human rights abuses. The arrest of prominent activist Loujain Al-Hathloul in 2018 and several others was highlighted as a serious concern.
Al-Hathloul's sister, Lina, took to Twitter with the hashtag #StandWithSaudiHeroes to highlight the punishments that women activists are subjected to simply for demanding basic liberties that are taken for granted elsewhere.
Dear #W20 participants, my activist sister @LoujainHathloul has been arbitrarily imprisoned for more than 2 years. The saudi regime, host of this year's W20 event, brutally tortured her and threatened to kill her.
Please ask for her release. #FreeLoujain #StandWithSaudiHeroes https://t.co/IiULFex4tx
— Lina Alhathloul لينا الهذلول (@LinaAlhathloul) October 16, 2020
While Saudi Arabia is hosting the #W20, human rights activists like #LoujainAlhathloul continue to languish in prison as a result of calling for basic equality. Today, I take the Freedom Pledge on behalf of Loujain. Learn more: https://t.co/0JcIovmjQI @FreedomFirst #FreedomFirst pic.twitter.com/P0lTRG9Iyu
— Téa Leoni (@TeaLeoni) October 16, 2020
In a letter penned to the top players on the Ladies European Tour, the 25-year-old described the event as a "grubby charade" as she argued that taking part was akin to giving "tacit endorsement to the Saudi regime and its imprisonment and torture of activists like my sister."
Al-Hathloul's imprisonment has been met with international outcry as concerns grow over her fate. Human rights organisations including Amnesty International have alleged that she and other women campaigners have been subjected to torture and sexual harassment, including threats of rape, while in Saudi detention.
The crackdown on female activists by the Saudi government reached its peak when the authorities arrested and detained Al-Hathloul, Eman Al-Nafjan and Aziza Al-Yousef on 15 May, 2018. Just weeks later, other leading women's rights advocates and feminist figures were also arrested, including Samar Badawi and Nassima Al-Sadah.
"We remain concerned that they will not be able to exercise their right to a fair trial in accordance with the international human rights standards, to which Saudi Arabia is obliged to adhere," wrote the NGOs. The only way to achieve true progress, they added, is to implement real reforms on women's rights, and immediately release those arrested for defending these rights. "While we hope that Saudi Arabia can indeed develop its interaction with other countries around the world through hosting sports and other events in the Kingdom, we cannot ignore the country's attempt to conceal its continued detention of women's rights activists and discrimination against women by hosting a women's sports tournament."