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Boxing star Anthony Joshua refuses to comment on human rights in Saudi Arabia

  • Anthony Joshua was in Saudi Arabia preparing for his fight on Saturday.
  • A Saudi woman studying in Britain had been jailed for 34 years for her tweets.
  • Salma al-Shehab was sentenced for helping dissidents “disrupt public order,” according to court documents.

When news came out Wednesday that a woman had been jailed for 34 years because of what she said on Twitter, it was just days before the world heavyweight fight of Anthony Joshua in Jeddah. Joshua did not say anything about human rights in Saudi Arabia.

Joshua has been staying in Saudi Arabia before his fight with Oleksandr Usyk of Ukraine on Saturday. He said that people there seemed “cool” and that he tried to avoid “negative” talk.

“I’m here enjoying Saudi Arabia now we’re all here loving the positive side of things. Don’t focus on anything that’s negative. I’ve had a great time,”  Joshua said.

“What I experienced is only what I can talk about. I’m not on the internet researching, digging and digging and digging. I’m sure if you want to find that stuff out you have to dig.”

Joshua was getting ready for his fight when news came out that a Saudi woman studying in Britain had been jailed for 34 years and told she couldn’t leave the country for another 34 years because she posted messages on Twitter.

Salma al-Shehab, who is 34 years old, was sentenced on August 9 by a Saudi appeals court for tweets that helped dissidents in the kingdom “disrupt public order,” according to court documents.

The sentence is part of a large-scale crackdown on rights activists in the conservative Sunni Muslim country. Many activists have been jailed or told they can’t leave the country.

“Rage on the Red Sea” on Saturday is one of a number of high-profile events that have been accused of “sportswashing,” or using sports to improve a country’s reputation.

“For me, what I experienced from face-to-face conversations from people from around the world, Saudi isn’t just full of Saudis. Saudi has a lot of tourism and people have migrated here. They seem cool,” Joshua said.

“My thing, I’ve been on the streets and I’ve met people on the streets and it’s been positive for me personally.”

Other Saudi sports events have also been criticised, like the Formula One grand prix in Jeddah, the controversial LIV golf tour, and Joshua’s fight with Andy Ruiz Jr. in 2019.

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