© 2019 - International Centre for Investigative Reporting
The Saudi Monarch needs evaluation
By Owei LAKEMFA
THE outrage against Saudi Arabia over last week Tuesday’s disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi, a 59-year-old Saudi journalist within the precincts of its embassy in Turkey, is just the latest expression of international indignation against that country.
In my December 1, 2017 column titled “ Is Saudi Arabia also amongst the Terrorists?” I had drawn attention to the Saudi monarchy’s unacceptable behavior. I had decried its very liberal use of capital punishment even for alleged crimes which cannot be objectively substantiated such as sorcery and witchcraft. I had raised the problematic of detaining 208 prominent Saudis on accusation of corruption, finding them guilty without any formal charge or trial and holding them hostage until they raised and paid amounts the state claimed they had misappropriated. I had also raised concerns about the relegation of women to beings inferior to men, the depersonalization and inhuman treatment of migrant workers, the invasion of Bahrain, the continuous bombing of Yemen in a scorched earth policy, and the blockage of sovereign Qatar.
I had also raised the quite bizarre handling of visiting Lebanese Prime Minister, Saad Hariri who on November 2, 2017 had to ‘resign’ his position on Saudi television. As we also know, Saudi Arabia had contributed to the establishment, training and funding of the Islamic State (ISIS) the international terrorist group which became a Frankenstein monster.
The unfolding case of Khashoggi, a former Editor-in-Chief of the Saudi newspapers al-Arab and Watan, and a Washington Post columnist, began on Tuesday, October 2, 2018. On that day, he entered his country’s embassy in Istanbul, Turkey at 1 pm on appointment to pick documents relating to his scheduled wedding to his Turkish fiancée, Hatice Cengiz the next day, but did not reemerge. He had visited the embassy four days earlier. He called back that Tuesday morning and was given the 1.pm appointment. The fiancée had accompanied him to the embassy and witnessed him enter. She waited in vain for his reemergence. With the overwhelming evidence of his appointment at the embassy, and a living witness who had accompanied him to its gates, the Saudi government had no choice but to admit that Khashoggi entered the embassy, but claimed he left within twenty minutes.
However, the Saudis could not provide conclusive evidence Khashoggi left the embassy area alive. If he did, he would have walked up to his fiancée who was waiting for him. It would make no sense whatsoever for him to have left his American residence, and later travelled from London to finalize marriage plans with his fiancée only to abandon her at the gate of his country’s embassy, and not to have been in contact with anybody including family, friends and colleagues. The Turkish police conclusion that the Saudis abducted, killed and dismembered Khashoggi in the embassy precincts, is logical. What are missing are the details and how his body was disposed of.
Khashoggi had asked for an end to the Saudi-led war in Yemen, spoken against the clampdown on women activists, dissidents, and perceived rivals of the government and made a critique of the Trump administration regarded as a strong ally of the Saudi monarchy. For these, he was banned by Saudi authorities from further writing. Afraid he was being caged in, he left the country before it might become too late for him to do so. Khashoggi whose liberal style of journalism would have been mainstream in most countries, took up residence in Virginia, United States. His marriage plans led him into his country’s embassy in Turkey where he vanished. With no explanations, the Turkish hypothesis was that Khashoggi was probably murdered by a special squad of fifteen Saudi agents who arrived Turkey and entered the embassy about the time the journalist got there on appointment.
The Turks, who have published the photographs of the fifteen suspects, said although this group had booked for four nights at a hotel near the embassy, it left same day for the airport to board two private aircraft. Two leading American newspapers claim they have evidence that the Saudis eliminated the journalist. The New York Times wrote that the hit was ordered by the highest echelon of the Saudi regime while the Washington Post reported that American intelligence intercepted communication amongst Saudi officials planning the fate of Khashoggi.
The Saudis are so confident that their agents did such a clean job, that they confidently asked the Turkish law enforcement agencies to come to the embassy and carry out a forensic investigation. It has also mocked the world by inviting journalists to enter the six-storey embassy and search for their Saudi colleague. In the process, the embassy enacted bizzare acts like opening cupboards, file cabinets and drawers to show it is not holding or hiding Khashoggi.
Doubtlessly, finding the Saudi monarchy liable of kidnapping and eliminating Khashoggi is based on circumstantial evidence, but they are weighty and overwhelming enough to pronounce guilt. Also, the sordid record of the kingdom in executing similar brazen criminal acts makes reasonable human beings pose the rhetorical question; if not the Saudis, who else?
There is the case of Nassir al-Sa’id , founder of the Arabian Peninsula People’s Union (APPU), who ran an opposition radio programme and went into exile in Beirut where he disappeared in 1979 without trace. Prince Sultan bin Turki from his exile in Geneva, called for reforms in Saudi Arabia. He was lured to a meeting, drugged and smuggled by air to Saudi Arabia. He resurfaced in Saudi prison, and when later freed, fled to Geneva where he sued Saudi Arabia for his kidnap.
Prince Turki bin Bandar Al Saud, a former police boss, was imprisoned over an alleged family dispute. He moved to Paris after regaining his freedom. For three years from 2012, he carried out an online campaign for reforms in Saudi Arabia. He was visiting Morocco when he disappeared.
Prince Saud bin Saif al Nasr criticised the Saudi monarch from his exile in Europe. In 2015, he dis appeared without trace. He is presumed to be held in Saudi Arabia.
Prince Khaled bin Farhan was a Saudi dissident living in Switzerland. In 2003 he had a business offer from a Russian-Italian company which provided a private aircraft to take him from Milan to Rome. It turned out to be a ruse as he was taken to Saudi Arabia and imprisoned for seven years. He left for medical treatment in United States and sued in Switzerland for his abduction. In 2016, he left Paris to visit his ailing father in Cairo, Egypt only for the aircraft to be diverted to Saudi Arabia where he was dragged off the aircraft screaming.
The Saudi monarchy doubtlessly need an urgent evaluation, and the rest of humanity, needs to call it to order.
Owei Lakemfa, former secretary general of African workers is a human rights activist, journalist and author.