Barcelona star Lionel Messi has been warned against promoting the tourism board of Saudi Arabia by families of those imprisoned by the Arab state.
Human rights advocacy body, Grant Liberty organised an open letter to the Argentine superstar in an attempt to persuade him from adding his weight to a tourism campaign by the nation.
The campaign Visit Saudi are attempting to ramp up publicity in the nation and attract foreign tourists to visit when travel restrictions are lifted later in the year.
Messi – the most marketable star in football – continues to be at the heart of Barcelona news with his future at club level still uncertain with his contract set to expire this summer and he is currently weighing up an offer from the Arab nation’s tourism project.
It is reported by The Independent that the 33-year-old has been offered a multi-million contract to add his face to the campaign but he has now been warned that he is being “used” to “launder” the reputation of Saudi Arabia.
The open letter to the superstar reads: “You are an inspiration to millions and what you say and do really matters. To put it bluntly – you have enormous power, but with that power comes great responsibility.
“The Saudi regime wants to use you to launder its reputation. Prisoners of conscience in Saudi Arabia have been tortured, sexually assaulted, and held in prolonged solitary confinement – often for months at a time – on an industrial scale.
“Women’s rights campaigners, reformist preachers, Shia activists, democracy campaigners, indeed anyone who criticises or even questions the regime can face long-term imprisonment and in some cases the death penalty.
“If you say ‘yes’ to Visit Saudi you are in effect saying yes to all the human rights abuses that take place today in modern Saudi Arabia. But if you say ‘no’ you will send an equally powerful message – that human rights matter, that decency matters, that those who torture and murder do not do so with impunity. The world must stand up to those who trample on others.
“Lionel Messi, you are a hero to millions – please use that status for good. Stand up for human rights and say no to the butchers of Jamal Khashoggi and the brutalisers of peaceful campaigners in Saudi Arabia.”
Grant Liberty spokesperson Lucy Rae is cited by the report as stating: “Torture and tourism don’t mix.”
She added that Saudi Arabia is attempting to “launder its reputation while in truth it imprisons and tortures human rights activists on an industrial scale.
“If Saudi Arabia wants to show the world it has changed it needs to begin real reform, and end the abuse of peaceful activists. Until it does that, its Visit Saudi campaigns will be written in the blood of those they have brutalised.”
Saudi Arabia currently has ties to the Spanish FA, who stage the Spanish Supercopa in the nation after striking a money-spinning deal.