Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Mohammed bin Salman’

UK Looks Both Ways on Saudi Arabia

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 8th July, 2020

UK Saudi ArabiaOn Monday, the British Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab, made an important statement in the House of Commons, ushering in a new era of post-Brexit unilateral foreign policy. Most significantly, he announced the government’s intention to impose sanctions — including asset freezes and travel bans — on almost 50 individuals and organisations deemed responsible for extra-judicial killings, the use of forced labour and other gross human rights abuses. Myanmar and North Korea were included in the Minister’s criticisms, but the two countries with the largest number of violators cited were Russia and Saudi Arabia. In particular attention was focused on the fatal detention of the lawyer Sergei Magnitsky and the brutal murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Twenty Saudis were cited in the latter instance, as is also the case in the trial now underway (in absentia) in Istanbul, with the most prominent name being Saud Al-Qahtani, who is close to the Kingdom’s Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman. This will have caused quite a shock to the government in Riyadh as Britain has long been one of Saudi Arabia’s closest allies.

US Saudi arms salesYet just 24 hours later the British government announced that it was going to resume arms sales to Saudi Arabia, despite widespread concerns that such weapons have been used in operations that have killed civilians in Yemen. Arms sales were suspended last year after the NGO  the Campaign against the Arms Trade (CAAT) won a legal case based on humanitarian concerns. But the Conservative government now says that a subsequent review found “isolated incidents” of possible violations but no pattern of non-compliance — and no clear risk of future serious breaches. The revenues from such arms sales for British defence contractors are considerable but the move obviously has a political message, too, namely that the UK government wants to reassure the Saudis about the solidity of its friendship despite the human rights sanctions. When asked on BBC Newsnight last night how he could reconcile these two contradictory positions, Tory MP Bob Seely struggled to come up with a persuasive answer. What is certain, however, is that both the Saudis and their critics are now annoyed.

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Justice for Jamal Khashoggi?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 3rd July, 2020

Jamal KhashoggiAn important trial opened in Istanbul today, though the 20 defendants are not present. These are 20 Saudi men accused of complicity in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in October 2018 when he called at the Saudi consulate to get documentation ahead of his wedding to his Turkish fiancée, Hatice Cengiz. Security cameras captured him going into the building but not him leaving. Prosecutors believe that he was strangled inside the consulate, his body then cut into pieces before being taken away to be buried in secret. Initially the Saudi authorities denied these allegations, but later declared that rogue elements in the government service had bungled an attempt to remove him back to Saudi Arabia against his will. A trial in camera was then held in Riyadh at which five unnamed men were sentenced to death. No foreign observers were allowed access. The Saudi Crown Prince (and effective ruler) Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) denied any involvement, but accepted responsibility, on the principle of “the buck stops here”. The Saudi authorities hoped that that would be the end of the matter, but the Turkish authorities have been dogged in their determination to try to get to the bottom of the affair.

Agnes CallamardMoreover, the CIA in the United States announced that it thought MBS must have ordered the killing. He is not one of the 20 whose names are on the indictment sheet now, though two of his senior former officials are: Ahmed Al-Asiri and Saud Al-Qahtani. The prosecution hopes the men will be given life sentences if found guilty. One might ask what is the point, as the defendants are not in custody and Saudi Arabia is unlikely to give them up. But that question has been answered well by the UN’s Special Rapporteur for Extra-Judicial Killings, Agnes Callamard, who is attending the hearings. She said today that the light of international law will shine on what she called this “state killing”, which might encourage other countries to take action. As I said in a TV broadcast this morning, travel bans on the men involved could be implemented, though realistically countries such as the United Kingdom and the United States, which sell billions of dollars worth of arms to the Desert Kingdom, are unlikely to press for MBS to be held to account. This case is of special concern to me, not just because I am a journalist covering the Middle East but also because by chance I was at a Palestine conference in London with Jamal Khashoggi just a couple of days before his fateful encounter in Istanbul. Hatice Chengiz waited in vain for him to emerge from the consulate. I pray she does not have to wait in vain for justice to be done, at least in the eyes of the world.

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What Happened to Jamal Khashoggi?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 13th October, 2018

Jamal KhashoggiThe disappearance and possible murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi has taken on an added disquieting significance with claims in the Turkish media that either his smart-watch or phone recorded him being questioned and tortured in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, to which he had gone for formalities ahead of his forthcoming marriage to a Turkish citizen. The Saudi government, meanwhile, insists that he left the consulate unharmed at the end of his visit, but as there has been no further sign of him since, that statement seems increasingly thin. There have been stern reactions to the affair from a range of world leaders, not least French President Emmanuel Macron; even Donald Trump has said there will be consequences if foul play is confirmed (having earlier expressed concern about any impact criticism might have on tens of billions of dollars-worth of US arms sales). The United Kingdom is also a key ally of and arms supplier to the desert Kingdom and there is growing dismay in London as the days go by with no convincing explanation. The official Saudi line, not surprisingly, is that all the furore is an effort to besmirch the country, though the accusatory finger is tellingly being pointed specifically at Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, “MBS”, who is the very public face of Saudi “reform”. Meanwhile several leading international figures have pulled out of a big event due in Riyadh shortly. Certainly, the Khashoggi case is something of a PR disaster at a time when MBS is championing his country’s new look. Exactly two weeks ago, I saw Jamal Khashoggi, a contributor to the Washington Post, here in London, where he was one of the speakers at a seminar on Oslo at 25 put on by the Middle East Monitor, MEMO. He looked preoccupied, which I put down to jet lag; surely, he cannot have had any inkling of what may have been waiting for him in Istanbul. There is a certain irony that his disappearance occurred in Turkey, however, given the clamp down on journalists and media organisations there. Perhaps the Saudis — assuming the plot theory is true — hoped that the Turks wouldn’t make too much of a fuss. But this is ot a story that can be easily quashed.

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MBS Comes to Town

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 7th March, 2018

Mohammed bin Salman billboard vansThe Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman, has been in London today, getting right royal treatment befitting of a state visit, with lunch with the Queen, tea at 10 Downing Street and dinner with Prince Charles. There was some bemusement yesterday among Londoners as electronic billboard vans drove round the city welcoming MBS’s arrival, and today many newspapers had three half-page spreads reinforcing that message. For anyone familiar with the Gulf monarchies that is not in the least surprising, however; rulers and their crown princes are celebrated with giant pictures everywhere in their home territories, including whole sides of multi-storey buildings. Such apparent vaingloriousness is infra dig in Britain, but we should remember that we started eroding the power of absolute monarchs 800 years ago, whereas Saudi Arabia is a kingdom only 80-odd years old.

Mohammed bin Salman with Queen Elizabeth I was kept busy myself today, doing both television and radio interviews about the prince’s visit, as well as attending a session on youth’s place in Saudi Arabia’s 2030 Vision, at the Dorchester Hotel (where else?). Several people elsewhere asked me outright: well, are you for or against this visit? As one might expect from someone with a background in Reuters and the BBC, and with one foot in academe, I answered in more nuanced terms. As Saudi Arabia is a signatory to the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and actually sits on the UN Human Rights Council it must expect its domestic human rights record to come under scrutiny. The detention of dissidents has increased since MBS’s sudden ascendancy to the role of neo-dauphin and the rate of executions has actually doubled these last few months. Similarly, the immense human cost of the war in Yemen — exacerbated by the blockade of the port of Hodeidah, which has caused widespread malnutrition — is a legitimate cause for concern, even anger, made more acute by the fact that British arms sales (and some advice) has been helping the Saudi war effort there. However, on the other side of the coin, MBS (with his father’s approval, presumably) has ushered in some reforms that are noteworthy, such as the lifting of the ban on women driving later this year and at least a partial crackdown on corruption, as well as the introduction of VAT as a new source of tax revenue. So he should not be condemned out of hand, but neither should he be the object of unqualified praise. As I quipped on BBC Radio London this afternoon, under MBS’s guidance Saudi Arabia has entered the 20th century, but it hasn’t yet arrived in the 21st.

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