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Newcastle fans planning to protest against the club's Saudi ownership have been threatened and abused by social media accounts that have been linked to the country's ruling regime.<br>Members of NUFC Fans Against Sportswashing have been described as racist, insulted and threatened with physical abuse for attempting to hold the Saudi state to account over its human rights record.<br>Digital-media experts say the abuse is typical of the activity carried out by social-media accounts linked to an 'army' of professional trolls working for a state-run operation in Riyad.<br> <br /> John Hird, the founder of the NUFC Fans Against Sportswashing, has been individually targeted, with the bot accounts lifting photographs from his various social-media accounts and sharing them online alongside posts attempting to dismiss his status as a genuine Newcastle fan. The trolls have also disseminated information relating to where he lives.<br>'They are obviously Saudi bots,' Hird told the MoS.  'Recently set up accounts, called NUFC then a load of numbers, with messages that come in waves.<br>      (image:  )    Newcastle fans protesting club's Saudi ownership have been targeted by professional trolls<br>  RELATED ARTICLES                    Share this article Share 209 shares    'Some of them have taken photos of me and say I live in Spain etc. They praise the Saudi owners and say we and the campaign are definitely Sunderland fans.'<br>Hird's group are planning a silent protest against the Saudi ownership outside St James' Park ahead of next Saturday's Premier League game against Chelsea.<br>He showed the MoS some of the offending social-media posts and Twitter accounts.  They included several anonymous accounts created in the past two months, each with either one or no followers, the typical profile of bot accounts.<br>Hird also shared abusive posts from apparently legitimate Newcastle fans, which included personal insults and comments rubbishing his group's motivations for their protest, claiming they were secret Sunderland fans.<br>      (image:  )    Hird's group are planning a silent protest against the Saudi ownership outside St James' Park ahead of next Saturday's Premier League game against Chelsea<br>Another comment on a forum entitled The Independent Voice of Newcastle United Since 1988 encouraged supporters to give Hird and his allies 'a good hiding' at the protest.<br>'As we warned would happen, it's not just the case of NUFC fans sitting on the fence,' Hird said.  'The worrying aspect of the ongoing Saudi ownership of the club is that, not only have they managed to neutralise the majority of fans regarding their human rights abuses, they've managed to get a minority of fans to actually defend them and speak up for them. That's why we have to protest.'<br>Hird's group was set up following Newcastle's takeover by the Saudi Public Investment Fund (PIF) in October 2021. PIF's chairman is Mohammed bin Salman, the Gulf state's crown prince.<br>Bin Salman's regime has been heavily criticised by human-rights groups for multiple alleged offences, including the exploitation of migrant workers, criminalising the LGBTQ community and the imprisonment and torture of anti-Saudi dissidents.<br>Human Rights Watch last year published reports of a political detainees being tortured, with methods including electric shocks, beatings and whippings.<br>                    (image:  )    Newcastle club director Amanda Staveley (right) and husband Mehrdad Ghodoussi (left) pictured with Eddie Howe (middle) after he was appointed as Newcastle boss last November<br>The European Saudi Organisation for Human Rights this week revealed that 1,000 prisoners have been executed during Bin Salman's reign. Intelligence agencies in the United States, meanwhile, concluded that Bin Salman was complicit in the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, the dissident Saudi journalist.<br>The US agencies said Saud al-Qahtani, Bin Salman's former media advisor, orchestrated the murder.  Al-Qahtani was also also involved in masterminding the Saudi state's digital surveillance activity, according to emails leaked by Italian spyware vendor Hacking Team. The Saudi Prosecutor General himself said Al-Qahtani has been involved in targeting social-media accounts 'who cast aspersion on [the country's] achievements'.<br>The kind of trolling Hird has suffered has been specifically linked to an army of professional trolls employed at the Etidal Global Centre for Combating Extremist Ideology in Riyad, a state-run institution.<br>It was opened in 2017 by Bin Salman with Donald Trump, then the president of the United States, in attendance.  The centre's mission statement claimed it was designed to combat terrorism.<br>      (image:  )    Saudi Public Investment Fund (PIF) - whose chairman is Mohammed bin Salman (pictured), the Gulf state's crown prince - completed the takeover of Newcastle in October 2021<br>An Al Jazeera report on the centre claimed to reveal the internal structure of the centre.  It is broken down into three departments, including research and digital-analysis units, with the former comprising an 'electronic army' of about 400 employees who monitor the activity of prominent Saudi dissidents. The media unit, meanwhile, launches social-media 'storms' supporting the Crown Prince.<br>Al Jazeera is a news outlet with links to the Qatari state, which in the past has been in diplomatic conflict with its Saudi's counterparts.<br>Marc Owen Jones, author of Digital Authoritarianism in the Middle East, said: 'The modus operandi is about seeking out those who dare criticise Saudi, and trying to intimidate them and silence them.<br>'We know that state-sponsored social media trolling in Saudi has always had a close orbit to the Royal Court, most notably through Saud Al-Qahtani, the so-called Lord of the Flies, who orchestrated Saudi's disinformation and propaganda wars slot online mudah jackpot ( ) through a network of employees and PR marketing firms.'<br>Newcastle and Etidal were approached for comment.<br>  RELATED ARTICLES                    Share this article Share 209 shares    adverts.addToArray({"pos":"inread_player"})Advertisement
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Tuesday, November 08, 2022

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