Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee Ka-chiu announced that Hong Kong can provide funds for the NEOM project, a smart city being built in the northwest of Saudi Arabia. This project has been criticized for its human rights violations and surveillance. In 2022, three former indigenous residents, who opposed forced evictions, were sentenced to death.
Lee visited the THE LINE Experience Exhibition of NEOM Future City in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on Feb. 5. The project is funded by the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia and promotes future innovation in business, livability, and sustainable development.
The Epoch Times reported that NEOM has been accused of disregarding environmental protection and conducting city surveillance. ALQST, a Saudi Arabian human rights organization, revealed that three former Indigenous residents of the Huwaiti desert tribe were sentenced to death after opposing the project and refusing to move out of NEOM’s construction area. The Court of Appeal upheld the death sentence of the three men, Shadli, Ibrahim, and Ataullah, on Jan. 23, 2023. Dozens of former residents of the Huwaiti tribe have already been arrested, detained, and sentenced to long-term imprisonment for peaceful protests after being forced to move out of their homes.
Architectural companies involved in the NEOM construction include Morphosis and Aedas from America, British company Zaha Hadid Architects, UNStudio from the Netherlands, LAVA from Germany, and Bureau Proberts from Australia. In July 2019, the Wall Street Journal revealed that NEOM is a ubiquitous, automated city based on a 2,300-page confidential document. The Saudi Arabian government can monitor everything in THE LINE; the city’s computers can automatically report crimes and track all citizens.
According to the 2022 Global Freedom Index ranking by Freedom House, Saudi Arabia ranks in the bottom 10 out of 210 countries and regions worldwide. The report criticized Saudi Arabia’s absolute monarchy for limiting almost all political rights and civil liberties; and that the people do not elect its government officials. The Saudi Arabian government also significantly increased the use of the death penalty, executing 148 people in 2022.
The Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund promised to invest $500 billion into the NEOM project. The project is open to global investment. Andrew To Kwan-hang, former chairman of the League of Social Democrats and current affairs commentator, speculated that the Hong Kong government may set up an economy and trade office in the Middle East in the near future. Senior journalist Li Wei-ling said on her YouTube channel that the Hong Kong government wanted to utilize the Saudi Arabian trip to show the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) that Hong Kong could play an active role in the CCP’s “Belt and Road Initiative” plan.