Dakar Rally in Saudi Arabia: France Télévisions must renounce a partnership which contradicts its principles

Press release
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The Dakar Rally, a famous car race, will hold a press conference tomorrow near Riyadh about the event’s 2020 edition, which will take place in Saudi Arabia. The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the Ligue des Droits de l’Homme (LDH) encourage public media group France Télévisions to cancel its partnership with the event, which contradicts the principles and values laid out in the media group’s charter. Public money must not contribute to the Saudi state’s latest operation aiming to whitewash the regime’s suspected war crimes in Yemen and relentless repression of human rights activists.

On April 15, the Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO) announced that the famous rally raid would take place in Saudi Arabia starting 2020 for the next five editions. The announcement came six months after the murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi, and as the Saudi coalition remains embroiled in a war in Yemen, where it has allegedly committed war crimes.

The announcement comes on the heels of further revelations about the ill-treatment and torture (lashes, electric shocks, sexual harassment) of imprisoned human rights activists, including Loujain Al-Hathloul. Currently detained and on trial with eight other activists by a court specialised in terrorism cases, Al-Hathloul could face 20 years in prison. She gained widespread notoriety in 2014 by defying the ban on women driving, a crime for which she earned several months in jail.

Organising the high-profile car race in these conditions shows a complete disdain for human rights issues in the country and is part of the public relations strategy of the regime, which has increased its contracts - including weapons - and lavish spending to enhance its image and consolidate the support of Western governments.

In its charter, the France Télévisions group states that "public service television should set the bar in terms of program quality and innovation, respect for human rights, pluralism and democratic debate."1 It adds that "any program produced or acquired externally must comply with the principles of this charter."

How could a coverage featuring only the country’s beautiful landscapes, history, geography and culture and not revealing to the public the country’s dark side where pacific dissent is silenced, activists are assassinated, tortured or imprisoned, comply with the above principles?

Could France Télévisions’ journalists continue to do their job as journalists, that is, to investigate and independently choose incisive angles, if their employer is bound by a partnership with ASO, itself contractually bound to the Saudi state?

For all these reasons—not least of all out of respect for our friends and colleagues imprisoned in Saudi Arabia—we ask France Télévisions to immediately cancel this partnership which is fundamentally at odds with its principles and its charter.

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