Khashoggi disappearance highlights increasing peril for critics of Saudi rulers
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- 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
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.
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.
"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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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."
- Don Darling, mayor of St. John, New Brunswick, vows to hold "focused discussions" with Irving Oil officials after a blast and blaze at the giant plant on Monday sent workers and residents fleeing for safety.
What The National is reading
- Second Russian blamed for Skripal poisoning is GRU doctor, says website (CBC)
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- 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.
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