Amnesty mocks image-conscious Saudi Arabia with parody PR campaign
Rights group Amnesty International has lambasted Saudi Arabia's "aggressive" publicity campaign accompanying its defacto leader's tour of the US, and released its own advertisements calling out the kingdom's "distraction" tactics.
Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman is currently on his maiden voyage to America where he is charming influential figures in an attempt to rebrand the kingdom to appeal to its leaders and locals.
But the kingdom's efforts to portray itself as a reformer while it continues a devastating bombing campaign in Yemen, as well as a brutal crackdown on opposition at home, has drawn ire with Amnesty.
"The best PR machine in the world cannot gloss over Saudi Arabia's dismal human rights record," said Samah Hadid, Director of Campaigns for Amnesty International in the Middle East. "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."
Prince Mohammad's visit, which began at the White House with President Donald Trump, has been accompanied by billboard campaigns and Snapchat filters heralding the arrival of the "revolutionary" young prince.
A specially-produced magazine titled "The New Kingdom" also hit the shelves, attempting to give readers a glimpse "inside Saudi Arabia", glorifying "Saudi Vision 2030" and extolling the virtues of the revolutionised nation under the leadership of "the most influential Arab leader" who is pretty busy "transforming the world at the 32".
In response Amnesty has unveiled a satirical advertising campaign, warning the authorities not to mistake public relations for human rights.
One of the ads features a photo of a blindfolded man facing execution in Saudi Arabia. The text says: "If this is how your country delivers justice, you need a really, really good PR agency."
Another ad is a parody of a job recruitment advert [click to enlarge] that seeks "PR talent who can distract the world's attention from the merciless persecution of human rights activists, torture in prisons, corporal punishment and the killing of civilians in Yemen, by Saudi Arabia, our biggest client."
Hadid added: "If Crown Prince Mohammad 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."
MbS continues his charm offensive this week. Among those he is due to meet are American icon Oprah Winfrey, Apple CEO Tim Cook, Microsoft founder Bill Gates, as well as directors of Facebook, Uber, Google and others.
Despite the millions spent on the his multiple PR campaigns, the prince, who also serves as the kingdom’s minister of defence, has faced years of criticism from international rights organisations for his deadly war on Yemen, and in October the UN placed the Saudi-led coalition on a "blacklist" for killing and maiming children.
Nascent reforms in the ultra-conservative kingdom, including allowing women to drive, are also marred by a repressive guardianship system and violent clampdown on dissent.