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Spoof ad campaign mocks Saudi crown prince 'reform' claims

Amnesty International takes issue with Saudi claims to have introduced genuine reforms in kingdom
Bin Salman 'must end the systematic repression,' Amnesty says (AFP)

Amnesty International has launched a spoof advertising and marketing campaign mocking Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s reform and modernisation programme.

The campaign by the rights group, which includes a mock job advert placed in The Economist magazine, publicity notices and an online video, is part of a move to counter Saudi Arabia’s claims it is in the midst of the most far-reaching reform programme in the kingdom's history.

The UK and US have welcomed bin Salman’s reforms during his recent visits to London and Washington, but Amnesty International says they are little more than an attempt to “rebrand” the kingdom, despite an “ongoing crackdown against human rights activists”.

Distracting world attention

The campaign includes a mock job advert for “high flying PR talent with fierce ambition” to provide public relations expertise to “distract the world’s attention from the merciless persecution of human rights activists, the torture in prisons, the corporal punishment, and the killing of civilians in Yemen by Saudi Arabia”.

The initiative, which highlights Riyadh's use of London- and Washington-based political and communication firms, also includes a release featuring a photograph of a blindfolded man about to be executed by beheading next to the text: “If this is how your country delivers justice, you need a really, really good PR agency”.

The satirical campaign says that Saudi Arabia requires a new public relations firm to “create an impression in the Western media of a country governed by a visionary crown prince, pursuing ambitious reforms to obscure the grim facts”.

Bin Salman is credited with leading a series of social reforms, such as allowing women to drive and lifting a 35-year ban on cinemas as he attempts to move Saudi Arabia towards a more “moderate” form of Islam.

Amnesty 'spoof' campaign

Amnesty campaign material (Amnesty)

A dire human rights record

However, observers and rights groups say Saudi Arabia still has a dire human rights record and is involved in a devastating conflict in Yemen.

Samah Hadid, Amnesty International’s Middle East director of campaigns, said: “The best PR machine in the world cannot gloss over Saudi Arabia’s dismal human rights record.

"If Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is truly intent on being a ‘reformer,’ he must end the systematic repression of women, minorities and human rights defenders, order the immediate and unconditional release of all prisoners of conscience, and end the use of the death penalty."

Saudi Arabia has experienced a slight thaw on women’s rights in recent years, aligned with the crown prince’s plans to present a more open face to the international community; however, the execution rate has doubled since bin Salman was appointed crown prince in 2017, according to rights group Reprieve.

The kingdom has also been accused of using draconian terrorism legislation to target peaceful campaigners and pro-democracy bloggers. Bin Salman’s visit to London earlier this month saw activists stress the case of Raif Badawi, a Saudi blogger sentenced to 1,000 lashes and 10 years in prison for “insulting Islam” online, an issue that was then raised by Prime Minister Theresa May.

A humanitarian crisis 

Saudi Arabia also stands accused of killing thousands of civilians in Yemen, where its air force has been targeting Houthi rebels since 2015.

Hadid added: “Saudi Arabia wants the world to focus on its humanitarian aid donations to Yemen, but in reality the Saudi-led coalition is committing serious violations of international law by bombing schools, hospitals and civilian homes, which is exacerbating one of the world’s biggest humanitarian crises.”

Alongside the advertising in print media, Amnesty International has also released a 40-second online video, which satirises Saudi Arabia’s decision to “aggressively PR cosmetic reforms rather than actually carry out substantive human rights changes”.

The rights group says the video, called “Guess which one they chose,” contrasts the grim reality of Saudi executions, corporal punishment, jailing of activists and the “carnage in Yemen - with the smiling face of the public relations industry”.

Bin Salman is currently in the US where he has reportedly reached a slew of deals, including several involving Saudi Aramco, the largest oil company in the world.

The deals include a partnership between Google and Aramco on cloud computing and a partnership between the Saudi energy giant and defence giant Raytheon.

The government of Saudi Arabia did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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