On 2 October, journalist at the Washington Post Jamal Khashoggi who is a Saudi citizen went into the Saudi Consular Office in Istanbul on a rendezvous to pick up papers about his divorce, while his Turkish fiancée waited outside.
He never came out again.
His disappearance, and likely death after torture, is curiously one of those events that may seem “small” compared with Saudi Arabia’s dropping bombs on children in Yemen and killing tens of thousands, but that could have a massive diplomatic effect. It makes one think, in dread, of the shooting of Archduke Ferdinand, seen as the “trigger” for the outbreak of World War I.
The effective head of the Saudi Kingdom, Crown Prince Mohamud bin Salman (MbS), ex-Minister Shawkatully Soodhun’s friend, said 3 days after Khashoggi’s disappearance, 5 October, to Bloomberg: “My understanding is he entered and he got out after a few minutes or one hour. I’m not sure.” By 14 October, he began to change his line. Trump said in a tweet that MbS now “denied any knowledge” of the disappearance of Mr. Khashoggi, which Trump takes at face value. The very Trump responsible for getting crowds to bay, “Lock her up! Lock her up!” about Hilary Clinton, that is to say, “Sentence first, then verdict!” is now a great supporter of “innocent until proven guilty.” His change in position seems to be provoked directly by the lure of contracts to sell over $100 billion in armaments to the Prince. During the US presidential campaign, Trump boasted of the hundreds of millions of dollars he was receiving from the Saudis, in private business deals. When he became US President, Trump’s first visit abroad was to the Crown Prince Mohamud bin Salman. Trump then set up a three-way unholy alliance – Trump-Netanyahu-MbS – and thought he could run Middle East diplomacy without an Ambassador – named by the President, voted by the Senate and then being giving credentials by the States concerned, thus carrying authority – in either Saudi Arabia or Turkey. Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, simply made friends with King Salman’s son, the Crown Prince and that had to do for diplomacy.
To show how easily the diplomatic situation escalates, when the macabre details of the assassination first came out, Trump had tried to ignore it, then said if true, it was “disgusting”, and he then threatened “severe punishment”. The Crown Prince replied, that if his kingdom is targeted by “any action, it will respond with greater action.” And since then Trump seems to be looking for a way out for the Saudi Crown Prince – at first he suggested it was “rogue” elements of some kind in the state apparatus that had done a botch job of kidnapping Khashoggi.
Who is Jamal Khashoggi? He was close to, or even part of, the Royal family circles, then became critical of MbS’s politics, went into exile and got Permanent Residence in the US and criticized the regime in the Washington Post. The Crown Prince and his entourage seem not to have been able to stomach this kind of criticism coming from someone who was “zanfan lakaz”. The fact that Khashoggi published his criticism of MbS in an American newspaper that Trump disapproves of, seems to have re-inforced the Trump-MbS axis.
The tragic event has cause the Turkish Government to find itself in a difficult position. It has officially released footage of 15 men, including many that are part of MbS’s inner circle and a forensic medicine doctor from the Saudi Defence Department,who came in for just the minimum time necessary for some kind of hit job. The Turkish staff members at the consulate – some 25 or so -- were told to go home on the day that Khashoggi attended his rendezvous at the Saudi Consulate, so the Turkish Government could definitely not get any testimony from them. Then the Turkish Government decided to proceed by making unofficial leaks, through senior officials – to both selected journalists, and selected US secret agents. The leaks give a picture of a hit job team flown in on these two private jets (Did one of these now-infamous jets come to Mauritius?) Video and audio recordings are said to indicate the macabre scenario that Khashoggi was tortured, murdered, sawed into pieces and disposed of. Then the Saudi authorities took two whole weeks to actually allow the joint Saudi-Turkish forensic team to look for clues at the Consulate. By then the Saudi team had reportedly painted walls and scrubbed up. They then,in turn, further delayed access to the Consulate’s nearby home, and when they were due to enter, he fled the country.
As Trump and his ally the Crown Prince try to squirm out of the horrendous situation they are in – not knowing what line to take because they do not yet know what hard evidence the Turkish Government will be able to produce – Republican Senators, one by one, are distancing themselves from Trump’s prevarications. Senator Graham says outright that the Crown Prince “had this guy murdered in a consulate in Turkey”. He and Marco Rubio have set in motion a 120-day warning for sanctions. Paul Ryan, Ben Sasse, Susan Collins have also taken position.
In this context, LALIT requests the Mauritian Government to take a firm stand against the Saudi regime for this cruel action against a journalist. The impunity that this represents comes as a warning. The Saudi regime must stop bombing civilians in Yemen, too. The regime must be isolated. The Mauritian Government must take a position on principle.
We note that the Mauritian press has not, until today, 18 October had editorial copy supporting their colleague journalist who has been murdered in the course of his work as a journalist. Today Nad Sivaramen, Consultant at L’Express has armly called him “notre confrère” and also called on the Mauritian government to take stock of where it is, after having “drunk the soup” of the Saudian regime, and asked whether its principles are for sale for petrodollars.
Also today, Gwynne Dyer, columnist published in Weekly, has a very good article on the situation surrounding the murder of Khashoggi.
LALIT had already, since early 2016, warned the Mauritian Government against chummying up to this dangerous regime. Here is what we reported on our website on 14 January 2016: [
“LALIT in reading to save life of Palestinian poet, Ashraf Fayadh
“LALIT is one of the organizations that is collaborating with Ledikasyon pu Travayer for the Port Louis edition of the “World-wide Reading” in solidarity with Ashraf Fayadh, the young Palestine refugee poet condemned to death by the criminal regime in Saudi Arabia. Just at a time when the regime has perpetrated a mass execution, 47 men -- by either behead[ing] or killed by firing squad, it has not been announced – the Mauritian Government is setting up an Embassy in Riyadh.
“Meanwhile, a 35-year old poet and art curator, Ashraf Fayadh, has been sentenced to death for apostasy, or blasphemy, on completely ephemeral charges. His poems are mostly reflections on what it is to be a refugee. But in dictatorships like the House of Saud, death sentences come after bizarre accusations, in undemocratic courts, and carried out often by beheading, in some cases, in public.
“This means that many issues come together for the reading that LPT is organizing with the support of the Idriss Goomany Centre , MLF (Muvman Liberasyon Fam), LALIT, and the CTSP, at Grand River North West, Port Louis, at 5:30 pm on Thursday 14 January.
“When an art curator like Ashraf succeeds in bringing contemporary Saudi art to the world stage, together with the Tate Modern, he, too, falls foul of the regime that so blatantly stifles both free expression and freedom of conscience. And in Saudi Arabia, this can bring down the death penalty. So, the issues are multiple:
“1. Save the life of Ashraf Fayadh, and all those threatened with this barbaric punishment, in Saudi Arabia, the US and China, for a start.
“2. Free Ashraf Fayadh, and all those incarcerated for free expression and freedom of conscience in Saudi Arabia.
“3. The UN must at once suspend Saudi Arabia from the UN Human Rights Council, until it shows a modicum of respect for civil liberties. The abomination of Saudi Arabia’s election is linked, as the Wikileaks cables showed, to a secret vote-trading with the UK.
“4. The US and Europe, for a start, must stop the weapons deals that keep their oil flows.
“5. Ashraf Fayadh also reminds us of the refugee status of millions of Palestinians, often hounded off their land by the Israeli State and its henchmen in para-military settler groups.
“6. In all the outrage against the ISIS (Islamic State) expressed by US and European leaders recently, there is a much-covered-up element: the role of Saudi Arabia in the engendering of the IS. In fact, Saudi Arabia beheaded more people than the IS in 2015.
“7. We call on the Mauritian Government to halt its bid to set up an Embassy until Saudi Arabia changes its repressive rule, and we call on the US and UK, in particular, to put an end to their on-going military and socio-political support [to the regime].
“So, in LALIT we are proud to be part of the world-wide reading to save Ashraf Fayadh, and bring his unconditional freedom. We appreciate the Berlin Literature Festival’s initiative in co-ordinating this. LALIT knows about the festival through our member, Lindsey Collen, who was a guest writer there are few years ago. Other organizations doing fine work to free Ashraf include Amnesty International, PEN (which also supported Lindsey Collen when she was under threat) and the Avaaz team.
“We believe that everyone has freedom of conscience, and is free to join or leave any religion or all religions. We believe that the authorities in accusing him of apostasy for his poetry anthology published in 2008, “Instructions Within”, is just an excuse to clamp down on a bold and free young poet, and a creative curator. The Saudi Authorities, just to show their nature, also accuse him of having photographs of women (his friends, it turns out) on his mobile phone. Thursday 14 Jan 2016.”
Participants on the stage included:
Henri and Marie-France Favory
Noor Adam Essack
The session, as written up in our website on 23 January, 2015, exposed “the impunity with which the Saudi regime flaunts human rights, supported as it has been and still is by the US and its allies. During discussion, particular emphasis was put on the need to get Saudi Arabia suspended from the UN Human Rights Council, and the importance of stopping the Mauritian Government’s setting up an Embassy in Riyadh, as Minister Soodhun has announced it will do.” http://www.lalitmauritius.org/en/newsarticle/1805/moving-poetry-reading-to-save-ashraf-fayadhs-life/