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Khashoggi disappearance highlights increasing peril for critics of Saudi rulers

A closer look at the day's most notable stories with The National's Jonathon Gatehouse: Saudi Arabia is facing growing international demand for answers about the whereabouts of journalist Jamal Khashoggi; a visit to a Rohingya refugee camp shows how little has improved in a year

Newsletter: A closer look at the day's most notable stories

Human rights activists and friends of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi hold his pictures during a protest outside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, on Monday. (Murad Sezer/Reuters)

Welcome to The National Today newsletter, which takes a closer look at what's happening around some of the day's most notable stories. Sign up here and it will be delivered directly to your inbox Monday to Friday.

TODAY:

  • Saudi Arabia is facing growing international demand for answers about the whereabouts of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and what happened to him at the Saudi embassy in Turkey.
  • CBC's Nahlah Ayed returns to a Rohingya refugee camp to see what has changed  and what hasn't  in a year.
  • Missed The National last night? Watch it here


Khashoggi disappearance

A year ago, Jamal Khashoggi looked at what was happening in his native Saudi Arabia and expressed deep dismay at the "intimidation, arrests and public shaming" of citizens who dared to speak their minds.

"Saudi Arabia wasn't always this repressive. Now it's unbearable," was the headline the Washington Post editors chose for his op-ed column.

Now it appears that the dangers of criticizing Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (or MBS as he is popularly known) were even greater than the 59-year-old journalist and dissident appreciated.

Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi speaks at an event hosted by the Middle East Monitor in London on Sept. 29. (Reuters)

Last Tuesday, Khashoggi walked into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul for an appointment concerning the paperwork for his impending marriage to his Turkish fiancée. No-one has seen him since.

Turkish police have a theory about what happened inside the consulate, alleging Khashoggi was killed and dismembered by a specially dispatched squad of 15 Saudi security officials, who promptly left the country once the deed was done.

The Saudis, who say the journalist left the embassy unharmed, call the  claims "baseless" and have invited Turkish experts and officials to come have a look around the compound. Although they have yet to respond to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's demand for surveillance camera footage to back up their contention that Khashoggi exited, alive and well, via the backdoor.

This image, taken from CCTV video obtained by the Turkish newspaper Hurriyet and made available on Tuesday, claims to show Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2. (Hurriyet via AP)

"Do you not have cameras and everything of the sort?" he asked yesterday. "... Then why do you not prove this? You need to prove it."

Critics of the Saudi regime have a habit of disappearing.

Middle East Eye, a London-based news service, lists five prominent Saudi dissidents "suspected of being abducted, assassinated, or disappeared" over the past few decades, in addition to the dozens more known to be in jail.  

The missing include Prince Turki bin Bandar al Saud, a former police chief turned reformist, who has been missing since he travelled to Morocco in 2015 and was reportedly rendered back to Riyadh. And Saud bin Saif al Nasr, a vocal Twitter critic of the Saudi royals, who was tricked into boarding a private jet in the fall of 2015 and hasn't been heard from since.

The security camera seen here monitors the entrance to the Saudi Arabia Consulate in Istanbul, Turkey. (Chris McGrath/Getty Images)

Other media outlets have pointed to the arrest of Loujain al-Hathloul, an activist for women's rights inside the Kingdom, the beating of Ghanem al-Dosari — an MBS opponent — in London last month, or the continued imprisonment of blogger Raif Badawi and more lately his sister Samar, as evidence of a growing crackdown.

But a brazen, daylight killing of a prominent dissident at an appointed time and place, while his fiancée waited outside, would be taking things to a whole new level.

Although it's not like relations between Turkey and Saudi Arabia could get much worse.

The two regional powers have a complicated history and are already at odds over Syria, the ongoing Saudi proxy war in Yemen, and almost everything else that happens in the Middle East.

So much so, that MBS ranked Turkey as part of his "triangle of evil" last spring, alongside Iran and armed Islamic extremists.

An entrance sign at the front of the Saudi Arabia Consulate in Istanbul. Turkey said Tuesday it will search the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul as part of an investigation into the disappearance of the missing Saudi contributor to The Washington Post. (Chris McGrath/Getty Images)

What has been lacking so far has been outrage from quarters other than Turkey.

The UN has called for a "prompt, independent and international investigation" into Khashoggi's disappearance. Mike Pompeo, the U.S. secretary of state, has asked the Saudis to "be transparent" about what they find.

And on Monday, Donald Trump mustered some "concern" when queried by the media about Khashoggi, a U.S. resident.

"I don't like hearing about it and hopefully that will sort itself out. Right now, nobody knows anything about it," said the American president. "There's some pretty bad stories about it. I do not like it."

Trump has so far enjoyed a much closer relationship with Saudi Arabia than his predecessor Barack Obama did, raising few objections when Mohammed bin Salman rounded up hundreds of his rivals on charges of corruption, upped the ante in Yemen, or tried to economically hobble Qatar — although the administration did reportedly refuse to support a military invasion.

Some Mid-East observers think that all that tacit approval might have led MBS to believe he has total carte blanche from this White House.

In this April 9 file photo, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is welcomed by French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe in Paris. The prince has been surrounded by a carefully cultivated reformist veneer in recent months. (Francois Mori/Associated Press)

But perhaps not from other Western powers.

This morning, U.K. foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt delivered his government's sternest warning yet following a meeting with the Saudi Ambassador.

"Violence against journalists worldwide is going up & is a grave threat to freedom of expression," he tweeted. "If media reports prove correct, we will treat the incident seriously - friendships depend on shared values."


Tonight on The National

Former Canadian ambassador to Saudi Arabia Dennis Horak speaks with CBC's Adrienne Arsenault. (Sylvia Thomson/CBC)

Canada's former ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Dennis Horak, was expelled this summer in a diplomatic row and has been holding his tongue — until now. He sat down with Adrienne Arsenault to talk about the tweet that effectively ended Canada's official rapport with Saudi Arabia, and Canada's handling of some of its international relationships. He's not impressed with either.

"I think we took a step too far. And whether we can come back from that I don't know, I don't know."

  • Watch the interview tonight on The National on CBC Television and streamed online


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Rohingya in limbo

Correspondent Nahlah Ayed, producer Stephanie Jenzer and videographer/editor Richard Devey visited Rakhine State, Myanmar, the home of more than 700,000 Rohingya Muslims who fled to Bangladesh after being targeted in a campaign of murder, rape, and destruction.

The refugees we found on a strip of no-man's land a year ago were particularly unlucky.

They were stuck in the harshest limbo: a creek away from Bangladesh territory, and separated from Burmese land by a single, hostile fence. They were so close to home, some of them had helplessly watched as fires consumed their villages on the other side.

Dil Mohammed, their de facto spokesman, told us his people were victims of genocide.

Border guards watch closely as foreign journalists are briefly allowed to interview Rohingya in the no-man's-land between Myanmar and Bangladesh. (Stephanie Jenzer/CBC)

A year later, as we return to the region, genocide is a word far more readily used abroad to describe what happened to Rohingya Muslims here. Even Canada's parliament voted to declare it so.

This time, we are on the Myanmar side, on a trip organized by the Burmese Ministry of Information.

We knew we would end up at the border with Bangladesh. It was still surreal, on our final stop, to stand a fence away from the exact same camp we had visited almost a year ago to the day.

The camp had grown from just over 1,000 to more than 5,000 people. The conditions were no better.

In the past year, Dil Mohammed, centre, has become spokesman for the Rohingya community of the 'no man's land' between Myanmar and Bangladesh. He tells journalists they don't want to stay there. (Stephanie Jenzer/CBC)

People are still desperate to go home.

Dil Mohammed, too, was still stuck. He came to the fence to answer our questions.

He says Rohingya must be given citizenship, and be compensated for their losses.

There was a new demand, spoken in his halting English: "Take the perpetrators to the trial."

  • WATCH: Nahlah Ayed's coverage of the Rohingya in Myanmar tonight on The National on CBC Television and streamed online

A few words on ... 

The Canadian roots of the McIntosh apple.


Quote of the moment

"It cannot be our norm here that we're having fires and explosions. These are accidents, but this cannot be the new norm for people living in Saint John."

St. John mayor Don Darling updates reporters on the refinery explosion and fire during a news conference Monday. (CBC)

What The National is reading

  • Second Russian blamed for Skripal poisoning is GRU doctor, says website (CBC)
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  • Residents of evacuated B.C. community could be out for months (CBC)
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  • Court orders partial ban on diesel cars in Berlin (Deutsche Welle)
  • Flea-borne typhus epidemic spreads across Los Angeles (CNN)
  • Kanye West to dine with Trump at the White House (Washington Post)

Today in history

Oct. 9, 1955: Operation Lifesaver practices nuclear evacuation

At 10:50 a.m. on an October Wednesday morning, the mayor of Calgary pressed a button to set the air raid sirens wailing and kick off a mass nuclear attack drill. "Children went home as fast as they could, housewives left their chores, businesses closed. Men took their cars home," the CBC reported. Some 25,000 suburban residents were given two hours to find their way out of town, by bus or car, along planned evacuation routes. The Russians would never bomb Airdrie, authorities reasoned.

At 10:50 a.m., Calgary's mayor throws the switch to evacuate the city. Preparation and planning is the key to survival. 10:14

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About the Author

Jonathon Gatehouse

Jonathon Gatehouse

Has covered news and politics at home and abroad, reporting from dozens of countries. He has also written extensively about sports, including seven Olympic Games and a best-selling book on the business of pro-hockey.