Open Letter Opposing Saudi Arabia Worldcon Bid

A group of SF professionals and fans, led by Anna Smith Spark, have written the following open letter to the World Science Fiction Society and Worldcon 2020 chair Norman Cates:

Dear WSFS Board members, and dear Norman,

As writers, publishers and readers of science fiction and fantasy, we are writing to express our concern that Saudi Arabia has been accepted as a potential host site for the 2022 World Science Fiction Convention (WorldCon).

SFF is the great genre of possibilities and pluralities. As readers, writers and publishers of SFF our task is to inspire wonder: we look up at the stars to seek out other ways of being, we look down at the earth around us to find enchantment, beauty, romance, horror, hope. We create new worlds because we believe that in doing so we can make this world a better and intellectually richer place. A Jeddah WorldCon would allow fandom a chance to visit a breathtakingly beautiful city, Jeddah. It would break new ground for SFF Fandom, open up a new world to fans who may otherwise never have an opportunity to travel there, and show solidarity with creative communities within Saudi Arabia and other Arab states. It’s therefore with great sadness that we must face reality for what it is, that the Saudi regime is antithetical to everything SFF stands for.

The most recent Amnesty International report on Saudi Arabia states that in 2019 the Saudi government “escalated repression of the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly. They harassed, arbitrarily detained and prosecuted dozens of government critics, human rights defenders, including women’s rights activists, members of the Shi’a minority and family members of activists.… Some people, most of them members of the country’s Shi’a minority, were executed following grossly unfair trials.”[1] Saudi women face systematic legal discrimination, while identifying as LGBQT+  is illegal and can be punishable with corporal punishment and even execution. Saudi Arabia is a key player in the war in Yemen that has left 80% of the Yemeni population in need of humanitarian aid, and has been accused of war crimes in the region[2]. The UN concluded last year that it was “creditable” that the Saudi Crown Prince personally ordered the brutal murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi for the crime of writing words[3]. It cannot and must not be acceptable to stage an international event against this backdrop. Indeed, the murder of Jamal Khashoggi alone should be enough to render the concept of a literary convention in the country an absurdity.

On a personal level, we note that many of us would ourselves not be able to write or to live freely under Saudi law. We refuse to attend an event if those staffing it cannot have the same basic freedoms. We express deep concern that many members of the SFF community would be excluded from attending an event because of their sexuality, nationality or religious beliefs.

We stand in solidarity with those who seek change in the country. And we write in protest but also in hope – that by raising awareness of the political situation in Saudi Arabia a WorldCon SA will one day be possible.

Yours sincerely,

Anna Smith Spark (organiser), Andrew Angel, Helen Armfield, Graham Austin-King, Ali Baker Brooks, Andrew Bannister, RJ Barker, Alan Baxter, Donna Bond, James Brogden, Angela Cleland, Tom Clews, Adrian Collins, Lee Conley, Emily Cornell, Sarah Doyle, Margaret Eve, Mike Everest Evans, The Fantasy Hive, Fantasy Faction, Nick Ferguson, Karen Fishwick, Carol Goodwin, T.L. Greylock, Joanne Hall, Alex Knight, Patricia Hawkes-Reed, Bethan May Hindmarsh, Stewart Hotson, Shellie Horst, Steve D. Howarth, Humber SFF, Barbara James, Cameron Johnston, Daniel Kelly, Simon Kewin, Shona Kinsella, David Lascelles, Ulff Lehmann, Dale Lucas, Eloise Mac, Steve McHugh, Juliette McKenna, Peter McLean, Kevin McVeigh, Kareem Mahfouz, Andy Marsden, GR Matthews, Simon Morden, Alistair Morley, T.O. Munro, Stan Nicholls, Chris Nuttall, Scott Oden, Graeme Penman, Peter Philpott, Steven Poore, Ian Richardson, S. Naomi Scott, Mike Shackle, Steve J Shaw, Sheffield Science Fiction and Fantasy Society, Ian Segal, Rita Sloan, Sammy HK Smith, Vaughan Stanger, Mark Stay, Charlie Stross, Allen Stroud, Amanda M Suver Justice, Clayton Synder, Sue Tingey, Catriona Ward, Matthew Ward, David Watkins, RB Watkinson, Adam Weller, Graeme Williams, Phil Williams,  Deborah A Wolf.

2 thoughts on “Open Letter Opposing Saudi Arabia Worldcon Bid

  • July 29, 2020 at 12:10 am

    I understand the concern, but I think the letter is adressed to the wrong people. It’s not the responsibility of the WSFS Board members or the chair of the Worldcon that does the site selection to interfer with a bid.
    The letter could have been send to the members of Worldcon and urge them not to vote for that bid. If the WSFS board should have the responsibility to reject bids on grounds like this, you need a rule for that. And there the problem beginns. How to define this rule without xenophobia? This is a can of worms that should not be opended.

    • August 17, 2020 at 5:45 pm

      Countries run by murderers, especially fratricides, and, more importantly, killers of writers whose attitudes they dislike are not places to hold conventions dedicated to the most provocative Speculative Fiction.
      Any nation where a writer is liable to be imprisoned or simply “disappeared” for her/his views, which is not committed to freedom of expression that might offend a ruling family or the faith it claims to follow is no place for a WorldCon.
      Saudi Arabia and its poisonous regime that occasionally even allows women to drive, and occasionally sends squads of hit men to its world embassies to dispatch and dissect dissident writers is no place for those who consider themselves the freest of writers, those willing to ask “what if” anything at all and offer amazing arrays of possible results.
      After a true “Arab Spring “ brings freedom to Saudi Arabia, our small part of the world should celebrate and offer it the right to host a convention dedicated to freedom of most radical speech.
      Until then, Saudi Arabia must be shunned with much more emphasis than individual US states were shunned for refusing to recognize the Equal Rights Amendment.


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