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Twelve football fans sentenced to jail for ‘sectarian’ chanting in Saudi Arabia

A Saudi court has handed jail sentences to twelve football fans for ‘sectarian' chanting at a recent match in the country. On January 24, Al Safa Club played Al Bukiryah Club in the Eastern Province, and during the match, a section of Al Safa fans were filmed singing a Shia religious song celebrating the birth of Imam Ali.

Saudi Arabia is predominantly a Sunni nation and Shia Muslims have long suffered from discrimination and violence so the chanting was never going to go down particularly well. Police summoned and then released around 150 individuals in the aftermath of the match in relation to the chanting but twelve remained in custody.

These twelve football fans have all now received jail sentences ranging from six months to a year for “undermining public order through the spirit of sectarian intolerance by passing sectarian content in places of public gathering and inciting social strife.”

It comes two months after the Discipline and Ethics Committee of the Saudi Football Federation found that Al Safa had violated ethics regulations due to the chanting and were fined the equivalent of $53,325 and ordered to play five home games behind closed doors.

chanting in saudi arabia
The popularity of football is growing in Saudi Arabia but these jail sentences are a setback – Photo by Icon Sport

Chanting in Saudi Arabia: Human Rights Watch slam the jail sentences

The sentencing of 12 football fans for chanting in Saudi Arabia has come under fire from Human Rights Watch. One of the organisation's researchers, Joey Shea, said:

“Jailing football fans for chants at a match is just one more reason that FIFA’s rigging of the 2034 World Cup bidding process to allow Saudi Arabia to be the sole bidder is not just embarrassing, but dangerous. How can football fans feel safe in Saudi Arabia if they can be so easily sentenced to prison for nothing more than chants the government doesn’t like?”

“Any sports institution, musician, or global entertainer needs to ask themselves a serious question before they perform in Saudi Arabia. They should ask themselves whether their own fans might be arrested if they chant something the government doesn’t like.”


Andy Delaney

Andy is a freelance sports writer with ten years of experience covering major sporting events across Europe. He has also been a season ticket holder at Old Trafford since 2008 and has visited over 40 football stadiums in the United Kingdom and abroad following the Reds.

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