Skip to main content

Boxing star Joshua avoids comment in Saudi as tweeter jailed

British boxer Anthony Joshua attends a press conference ahead of the heavyweight boxing rematch for the WBA, WBO, IBO and IBF titles in Jeddah
— Jeddah (Saudi Arabia) (AFP)

Boxer Anthony Joshua declined to comment on human rights in Saudi Arabia as news broke 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 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 Jr, have attracted similar criticism.

Join hundreds of Middle East professionals with Al-Monitor PRO.

Business and policy professionals use PRO to monitor the regional economy and improve their reports, memos and presentations. Try it for free and cancel anytime.


The Middle East's Best Newsletters

Join over 50,000 readers who access our journalists dedicated newsletters, covering the top political, security, business and tech issues across the region each week.
Delivered straight to your inbox.


What's included:
Our Expertise

Free newsletters available:

  • The Takeaway & Week in Review
  • Middle East Minute (AM)
  • Daily Briefing (PM)
  • Business & Tech Briefing
  • Security Briefing
  • Gulf Briefing
  • Israel Briefing
  • Palestine Briefing
  • Turkey Briefing
  • Iraq Briefing

Premium Membership

Join the Middle East's most notable experts for premium memos, trend reports, live video Q&A, and intimate in-person events, each detailing exclusive insights on business and geopolitical trends shaping the region.

$25.00 / month
billed annually

Become Member Start with 1-week free trial

We also offer team plans. Please send an email to and we'll onboard your team.

What's included:
Our Expertise AI-driven

Memos - premium analytical writing: actionable insights on markets and geopolitics.

Live Video Q&A - Hear from our top journalists and regional experts.

Special Events - Intimate in-person events with business & political VIPs.

Trend Reports - Deep dive analysis on market updates.

All premium Industry Newsletters - Monitor the Middle East's most important industries. Prioritize your target industries for weekly review:

  • Capital Markets & Private Equity
  • Venture Capital & Startups
  • Green Energy
  • Supply Chain
  • Sustainable Development
  • Leading Edge Technology
  • Oil & Gas
  • Real Estate & Construction
  • Banking

Start your PRO membership today.

Join the Middle East's top business and policy professionals to access exclusive PRO insights today.

Join Al-Monitor PRO Start with 1-week free trial