Twelve Saudi Arabia soccer fans will serve jail time between six months and one year for chanting a religious song during a Saudi Division One match. Police questioned and investigated over 150 people in the days after the match.

Police charged all twelve with “undermining public order through the spirit of sectarian intolerance by passing sectarian content in places of public gathering and inciting social strife.” Another charge for two of the defendant was “sending what can undermine public order using the internet and electronic devices”.

Saudi police arrested the fans after a video of supporters chanting a Shia religious song spread across social media. The fans were reportedly celebrating the birthday of Imam Ali. Shiites recognize him as the first caliph and is second only to Muhammad in Islam culture.

Saudi Arabia is the sole bidder for hosting rights to the 2034 World Cup and was the only nation to submit a bid before FIFA’s deadline.

Saudi court decision criticized by press

The twelve fans could face up to five years in prison and fines of up to $800,000 in American dollars. This is due to Saudi Arabia’s widely criticized cybercrime law.

Many report the jailing of Shia soccer fans is one injustice in a long line of Shia oppression from the Saudi government. In a rigid Sunni state, Shiites have suffered economic neglect, exclusion from certain jobs, and repression.

Despite recent reforms by Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman, many Shias still face discrimination from a majority Sunni population.

“At a time when the Saudi authorities are spending billions on sportswashing and laundering their image globally, the arrest of these football fans is the latest stark illustration of their massive crackdown on freedom of expression,” Amnesty International director Heba Morayef said in a statement. “In this case, a minority religious group was exercising their right to express their religious folklore.”

Jailing raises issues in World Cup bid

FIFA president Gianni Infantino had a key role in Saudi Arabia’s selection as World Cup hosts, according to multiple sources. He restricted hosting bids to Asia and Oceania and cut off the deadline three years early. It made it difficult for interested nations like Australia to organize their funds and bids in time.

Along with issues of sportswashing and shady migrant worker deaths, Saudi Arabia’s World Cup bid raises a lot of questions. It’s sparked issues of free speech without repression. It also presents an unsafe environment for visiting fans.

“Football fans worldwide should be paying close attention to the outcome of this case,” Morayef said in an official statement. “The Saudi authorities must allow people to express themselves freely and without fear of repression and reprisal.”

Saudi Arabia’s ability to get away with human rights violations could greatly increase based on FIFA’s response. The Saudi Arabia Football Federation and Infantino are very close in both business and friendship. If Saudi Arabia gets the leeway to continue imposing harsh prison sentences for things the government disagrees with, human lives could be ruined or even lost at the 2034 World Cup.