By Conrad O’Malley
On the anniversary of Saudi dissident Jamal Khasshogi’s death at the hands of Saudi assassins in the Saudi consulate in Turkey, the United Nations put the Kingdom under renewed scrutiny this week during the General Assembly in New York.
Nearly two dozen countries delivered a joint statement Monday criticizing the kingdom for its treatment of dissidents, journalists and women activists.The statement emphasized a troubling pattern of persecution and intimidation against those who speak out against Saudi Arabia’s authoritarian government. It also expressed concern for the families and colleagues of vocal critics, reported Frontline.
The statement said that though the council acknowledged the “spirit of modernization and reform” in Saudi Vision 2030 — a multi-year plan to open the country to the West and diversify the economy — they remained “deeply concerned” about human rights in the country.
“Civil society actors in Saudi Arabia still face persecution and intimidation,” Sally Mansfield, Australia’s ambassador to the United Nations, read from the statement. “Human rights defenders, women rights activists, journalists and dissidents remain in detention or under threat. We are concerned at reports of torture, arbitrary detention, enforced disappearances, unfair trials and harassment of individuals engaged in promoting and defending human rights.”
Khashoggi’s death provided the opportunity for other dissidents to speak out as well.
“The killing of Khashoggi, the way it was done, was meant to send a message,” declared Saudi dissident Ali al-Ahmed. “It was meant for people like me. The regime demands absolute loyalty. If you don’t provide it, they can kill you. Khashoggi was on the inside; he became rich and successful on the House of Saud’s money. So they killed him – violently. They cut him up while he was still alive and then put his body through a meat grinder. This is what can happen if you disrespect this regime, even a little bit.”
Saudi Arabia “has a system of masters and slaves, princes and paupers” and that it was this, along with a refusal by the Saudis to consider increased political freedoms and reforms, that caused people like Khashoggi, a regular contributor to the Washington Post’s Global Opinions section, to speak out,” said al-Ahmed to USA Today.
“If that could happen to him, what could have happened to the people within the reach of the Saudi government inside their prisons?” said Hala Aldosari, a Saudi activist and academic, added Frontline.
“It’s a good signal, basically, on a change in attitudes toward people and it really punctures this kind of narrative on modernization that Mohammad bin Salman is trying to convey — that he’s a new modernizer who is actually not bringing Vision 2030 as an economic reform. He’s bringing his shackles, you know, his family’s shackles and swords along with him.”
Speaking for myself, I can say that I have inherited that spirit of dissent in order to fully empower our people and to establish a modern government with full rights for all. This dream will never die, no matter what the cost. We only have one life, and we must make it worthwhile, recently declared al-Ahmed in an oped for the Daily Caller.
Conrad O’Malley is a businessman with extensive experience in the Middle East