LONDON (AFP) – Saudi Arabia’s widely-lauded reforms are no more than a public relations blitz aimed at masking Riyadh’s rights record and are “fooling nobody”, Amnesty International said on Thursday.
Saudi Arabia, a key US ally and the world’s largest oil exporter, began to ease its ultraconservative policies following the rise to power of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the 32-year-old heir to the region’s most powerful throne.
“Saudi Arabia’s aggressive publicity drive to rebrand its image, tarnished by a ruthless crackdown on freedom of expression and a bombing offensive in Yemen, is fooling nobody,” Amnesty said in a statement.
The kingdom has launched a major image overhaul, lifting bans on entertainment, including cinemas, public music festivals and tourism, and scaling back restrictions on women.
The London-based rights group published a preview of a mock PR job advert — slated to run in The Economist and a number of Dutch media outlets on Friday.
It features a photograph of a beheading and the blistering caption: “If this is how your country delivers justice, you need a really, really good PR agency”.
Riyadh leads a military alliance fighting against Yemeni rebels in a bloody war that has left nearly 10,000 dead since 2015 and pushed Yemen to the brink of famine.
The Saudi-led alliance was blacklisted by the UN last year for the killing and maiming of children.
Amnesty singled out Prince Mohammed in its critique of Saudi Arabia’s policy changes over the past nine months.
“The Crown Prince has been cast as a reformer but the crackdown against dissenting voices in his country has only intensified since his appointment last June,” said Samah Hadid, Director of Campaigns for Amnesty International in the Middle East.
“The best PR machine in the world cannot gloss over Saudi Arabia’s dismal human rights record”.
Amnesty International has also said the human rights situation has “deteriorated markedly” since Mohammed bin Salman took over as crown prince.