Jeddah — Boxer Anthony Joshua declined to comment on human rights in Saudi Arabia as news broke on Wednesday that a woman had been jailed for 34 years over her Twitter activity, days before his world heavyweight fight in Jeddah.
Joshua, who has been based in Saudi Arabia ahead of Saturday’s unification bout with Oleksandr Usyk of Ukraine, said people seemed “cool” in the kingdom and that he preferred 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,” he told AFP.
“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.”
As Joshua was preparing for his fight, it emerged that a Saudi woman studying in Britain was jailed for 34 years – with a further 34-year travel ban – for posting messages on Twitter.
The Saudi appeals court sentenced Salma al-Shehab (34) on August 9 for tweets that aided dissidents seeking to “disrupt public order” in the kingdom, according to court documents seen by AFP on Wednesday.
The sentence comes as part of a widespread crackdown on rights activists in the conservative Sunni Muslim country, many of whom have been slapped with jail sentences and travel bans.
Saturday’s “Rage on the Red Sea” is one of a series of high-profile events that have been accused of “sportswashing” – or using sports events to soften a country’s image.
“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, including Jeddah’s Formula One Grand Prix, the controversial LIV golf tour and Joshua’s 2019 fight against Andy Ruiz Jnr, have attracted similar criticism.