Labour crit­i­cises the Tories over Khashoggi si­lence

The Observer - - News - Emma Gra­ham-Har­ri­son

Labour has launched a blis­ter­ing at­tack on the govern­ment over its re­sponse to the pre­sumed mur­der of Saudi jour­nal­ist Ja­mal Khashoggi, as pres­sure mounts on of­fi­cials head­ing to Saudi Ara­bia for a con­fer­ence.

US pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump vowed “se­vere pun­ish­ment” if Saudi au­thor­i­ties were found to have played a role in killing the Wash­ing­ton Post colum­nist. How­ever, he ap­peared keen to rule out sanc­tions, say­ing he did not want to “hurt [US] jobs” by halt­ing mil­i­tary sales to Saudi Ara­bia.

Khashoggi has been miss­ing since 2 Oc­to­ber, when he went to the Saudi con­sulate in Is­tan­bul to col­lect doc­u­ments con­firm­ing his di­vorce. Turk­ish au­thor­i­ties say he was bru­tally mur­dered in­side the build­ing by a Saudi hit squad. They have leaked an ar­ray of grim de­tails, and said most re­cently that they have au­dio and video record­ings of tor­ture and death.

Au­thor­i­ties in Riyadh deny at­tack­ing Khashoggi and say, without pro­vid­ing proof, that he walked out of the con­sulate. A del­e­ga­tion from Saudi Ara­bia ar­rived in Turkey yes­ter­day for a joint in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Turkey’s for­eign min­is­ter, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, called for Riyadh to al­low Turk­ish of­fi­cials into the con­sulate. Crown Prince Mo­hammed bin Sal­man of­fered Turk­ish in­ves­ti­ga­tors soon af­ter Khashoggi van­ished, but of­fi­cials have since back­tracked. UN chief An­tónio Guter­res told the BBC there should be a “strong re­quest” for the truth, as this kind of in­ci­dent was be­com­ing a “new nor­mal”.

Shadow for­eign sec­re­tary Emily Thorn­berry, writ­ing in to­day’s

slams the govern­ment for days of si­lence af­ter the jour­nal­ist’s dis­ap­pear­ance. For­eign sec­re­tary Jeremy Hunt did not com­ment un­til 9 Oc­to­ber, say­ing he had de­manded “ur­gent an­swers” from Riyadh.

That was “far too lit­tle, far too late”, Thorn­berry says, com­par­ing it with the govern­ment’s rapid de­nun­ci­a­tion of the ap­par­ent killing of Ukrainian jour­nal­ist Arkady Babchenko in May.

“Imag­ine for one sec­ond how the cur­rent Tory govern­ment would have re­acted if … ei­ther Rus­sia or Iran had ab­ducted – and in all like­li­hood mur­dered – one of their dis­si­dent, ex­iled jour­nal­ists within the sov­er­eign ter­ri­tory of an­other coun­try,” she writes.

She crit­i­cises the prime min­is­ter for host­ing the crown prince ear­lier this year, and ac­cuses the govern­ment of soft-ped­alling on hu­man rights to se­cure a post-Brexit weapons deal.

Saudi Ara­bia has long shrugged off protests about do­mes­tic repres- sion and an ag­gres­sive for­eign pol­icy, but Khashoggi’s dis­ap­pear­ance has prompted un­prece­dented out­rage.

A string of busi­ness lead­ers and me­dia part­ners have pulled out of a high-pro­file con­fer­ence to be held out­side Riyadh from 23-25 Oc­to­ber, and dubbed “Davos in the desert”.

The Fi­nan­cial Times, CNN and the New York Times have all con­firmed that they will no longer at­tend. How­ever, both US trea­sury sec­re­tary Steve Mnuchin and Bri­tish in­ter­na­tional trade sec­re­tary Liam Fox are still plan­ning to go to the late Oc­to­ber con­fer­ence, un­less more de­tails emerge about what hap­pened in the con­sulate.

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