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 Amnesty International

19th March 2024, 13:00:47 UTC

A leaked draft of Saudi Arabia’s first written penal code falls woefully short of universal human rights standards and exposes the hypocrisy behind Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman’s promises to position his government as progressive and inclusive, said Amnesty International in a new report launched today. Saudi Arabia’s authorities have not shared the draft penal code for consultation with independent civil society, but a number of Saudi Arabian legal experts have confirmed the authenticity of the leaked draft.

The report, Manifesto for Repression, analyses the leaked draft code revealing how instead of improving the country’s abysmal human rights record as part of the Crown Prince’s reformist agenda, it contravenes international law and codifies existing repressive practices into written law.


After the 2018 murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Saudi Arabia – and Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman specifically – was shunned internationally, with world leaders promising to hold Saudi officials responsible for the assassination to account, sanctioning Saudi officials, and suspending arms sales and transfers. In addition, many major corporations cut ties with the country or paused their investment there.3
However, since then, the Saudi authorities have gone into overdrive to rehabilitate their international image.

In 2017, the Saudi Information Ministry launched a global public relations campaign “to promote the changing face of KSA to the rest of the world and improve international perception of the kingdom” The authorities set up public relations hubs in Europe and Asia to counter negative media coverage by producing press releases and social media content, as well as inviting influencers to visit and promote the country. In addition, Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, the Public Investment Fund, which is chaired by MBS, invested billions of dollars in the entertainment and sports industries.

Saudi officials have used the war in Ukraine and rising oil prices to ingratiate themselves with influential countries, and they pushed ahead with “Vision 2030,” investing huge sums of money and courting foreign investment. This approach has worked, with states – including the UK, US, and several EU members – recently rolling out the red carpet for MBS and/or succumbing to lucrative trade, investment and weapons deals, turning a blind eye the deteriorating human rights situation. MBS’s appointment as the Prime Minister in 2022 has
also made him immune from prosecution abroad, including for his responsibility for international crimes in Yemen and for the assassination of Khashoggi.

Saudi Arabia has also spent hundreds of millions of dollars on promoting its tourism, sports and entertainment industries, attracting major celebrities and influencers to Saudi Arabia, and in at least one case, paying a football player 500,000 USD per social media post promoting the kingdom. Such investments – aimed at whitewashing its appalling rights record – are also succeeding in convincing the global public that
Saudi Arabia is becoming a rights-respecting, open country.

This rebranded narrative and the new image Saudi Arabia is projecting to the world stands in stark contrast to the reality of the human rights situation in country. In fact, since MBS’s ascent to power as Crown Prince in 2017 and his formal appointment as Prime Minister in 2022, the human rights situation has become considerably worse.