Saudi Arabia’s first female jockey says she receives ‘terrifying’ death threats for criticising the regime

Exclusive: London-based Alya Alhwaiti fears the Saudi regime wants her dead for being an outspoken critic

Maya Oppenheim
Women’s Correspondent
Wednesday 23 February 2022 17:03
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<p>The 36-year-old says the Saudi government is furious with her for publicly criticising them, as well as leading a campaign in support of the Al-Huwaitat tribe to which she belongs</p>

The 36-year-old says the Saudi government is furious with her for publicly criticising them, as well as leading a campaign in support of the Al-Huwaitat tribe to which she belongs

Saudi Arabia’s first female professional jockey has said she has installed a panic alarm in her London property after receiving “terrifying” death threats and having her emails hacked.

Alya Alhwaiti said she believes the regime of Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman wants to take her “head off”.

The 36-year-old, who in 2005 became the first woman to ride for her country at international level, said Riyadh is furious with her for publicly criticising the government as well as leading a campaign in support of the Al-Huwaitat tribe to which she belongs.

Ms Alhwaiti has frequently launched fierce criticism of the crown prince on social media and in TV interviews, particularly in the wake of the death of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, who was murdered in Saudi’s Istanbul consulate in 2018.

Speaking to The Independent in an exclusive interview, Ms Alhwaiti said: “I have to tell the world. If you keep quiet, they keep threatening you.

“I had a case with Scotland Yard in 2018 when the threats started to come from websites, Twitter, YouTube, and social media and no-caller ID phone calls. They kept saying: ‘Don’t think you’re safe in London’. It was a man’s voice. It was a Saudi accent. It was absolutely terrifying.”

Ms Alhwaiti, who retired as a professional jockey in 2015, said she has also received death threats via social media, with users from Saudi Arabia telling her they will “put bullets” in her head.

She believes the trolls threatening her are sending messages from a centre in Riyadh overseen by one of the crown prince’s inner circle.

The Independent has contacted the Saudi government for comment.

The jockey said the Metropolitan Police attempted to trace where the online threats came from, yet struggled to do so – and she added that the messages have come from a variety of IP addresses because of the senders logging in at Costa, McDonald's, and other random places in the UK.

Ms Alhwaiti, who has more than 80,000 Twitter followers, said: “It is really upsetting. They threaten you. They try to assassinate your personality. They spread lies about you.”

You wake up in the morning and the first thing you read is ‘We will kill you’

Alya Alhwaiti

“They hacked my email and spread private photos in 2018. I was just wearing shorts and a vest top as it was hot. They said: ‘She’s not a Muslim.’”

Ms Alhwaiti said police officers accepted she had been hacked after she reported what had happened, and offered her support in the form of a panic alarm.

“They gave me a panic alarm in my house in 2018 and it stayed with me for eight months,” Ms Alhwaiti said. “I have a direct line if I want to call the police.”

The Metropolitan Police said they could not comment as “we wouldn’t identify a victim of crime nor whether they have been given a panic alarm”.

Prince Charles and Alya Alhwaiti

Ms Alhwaiti said an individual purporting to be from the regime had contacted her via Twitter to say the crown prince was planning to poison her.

While the threats via phone call stopped a year ago, the vitriolic abuse and threats through social media are ongoing and constant.

Ms Alhwaiti said: “People are asking to take away my nationality. You wake up in the morning and the first thing you read is, ‘We will kill you.’ This is the price you have to pay just to speak your mind. I would be in jail if I went to Saudi.”

She claimed her Al-Huwaitat tribe has been removed from villages that are home to more than 25,000 people to clear space for Neom, a new city due to be built in the Tabuk province of northwestern Saudi Arabia. The crown prince first unveiled plans for the city in 2017, with the first part due to be finished by 2025.

“They have taken them from their land, kicked them out and started Neom projects,” Ms Alhwaiti said. “One guy was killed in front of cameras because he refused to remove from his village. They put 70 men from the same village in prison because they refused to move. My tribe have been living in this area since 1400.”

Ms Alhwaiti, who has lived in the UK since 2011, said she previously worked as a supervisor for students and then in human resources while working in the Saudi embassy in London.

She explained she worked for Alwaleed bin Talal Al Saud, a Saudi billionaire businessman who is part of the royal family, from 2004 to 2011, with him sponsoring her horse-riding.

Ms Alhwaiti concluded that unless the “regime goes”, she will never return to Saudi, saying it saddens her that she cannot return to her homeland.

“There is no justice, no democracy, no human rights,” she said. “You are not safe there. You can’t speak your mind.”

Lucy Rae, a spokesperson for the human rights charity Grant Liberty, said: “Saudi Arabia’s portrayal as a progressive society is nothing but a sham.

“Behind Mohammed bin Salman’ desire to build Neom, the so-called ‘Vegas of the Middle East’, is the very real abuse of brave Saudi citizens who dare to take a stand against the regime and call out the human rights violations that still take place.

“One such citizen is Alia Al-Howaite, the first female jockey to ride for Saudi Arabia, who now finds herself under constant death threat, despite fleeing to the seemingly safe UK,” she told The Independent.

“This continued form of attack, even when dissidents flee the Kingdom, is common among journalists, human rights activists and anyone like Alia who dares to stand against the kingdom of Saudi Arabia.”

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