Jamal Khashoggi Saudi Arabia
Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne (Image: AAP/Lukas Coch)

Foreign Minister Marise Payne

The likely murder and dismemberment of journalist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi Arabian killers inside the country’s Istanbul embassy adds to the list of outrages perpetrated by a brutal regime that have drawn no rebuke from Australia. Instead, we continue to treat it as a normal country and valued partner.

Apart from Saudi Arabia’s long history of brutal oppression, slave labour, medieval execution for non-violent or invented offences and systematic misogyny, it has been committing war crimes in Yemen since 2015. This has included the routine and indiscriminate slaughter of civilians in a conflict that has an official death toll of over 5000, including 1100 children, but which is likely far higher.

In August, the regime also recently launched an hysterical attack on Australia’s Five Eyes partner and long-time friend Canada in response to Canadian diplomats expressing concern about jailed human rights activists, including an unsubtle threat to repeat 9/11 in Canada.

Now the regime has almost certainly murdered a journalist and covered up its crime using diplomatic protocols. This has shocked even a regime like Turkey’s Erdogan government, which knows quite a lot about punishing journalists.

What has been Australia’s response to each Saudi outrage? Our comments on the mass slaughter and crimes against humanity in Yemen has been an anodyne media release calling for a ceasefire — doubtless of comfort to Yemeni children incinerated in Saudi airstrikes — and offering some limited humanitarian aid. Australia offered no support for its ally Canada in the face of an attempt by the regime to intimidate other countries into staying silent on its human rights abuses. And Foreign Minister Marise Payne has said nothing about the disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi.

As Centre Alliance senator Rex Patrick — the only Australian politician to speak out on the matter — noted, UK foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt warned the regime over the disappearance of Khashoggi and noted the rising trend of violence against journalists, while the French demanded answers and even the Trump administration reluctantly raised the issue. Our allies have been ready to speak out, while Australia has stayed silent.

Then again this government is very keen to sell things to Saudi Arabia. In December, then-defence industry minister Christopher Pyne travelled to the country to sell weapons, with Australia significantly increasing its arms sales to the regime despite the atrocities in Yemen (the government, however, has covered up what the arms actually were). In fact, since the invasion of Yemen, there have been five ministerial visits to the regime, and a parliamentary delegation.

The likely murder of Khashoggi raises a more serious question than Australia’s willingness to speak up on the regime’s crimes. The willingness of the regime to use its diplomatic network to commit murder poses a risk to every country where Saudi Arabia has a diplomatic presence.

Are Australians and people residing here safe from the regime’s assassins? Are people who have to enter Saudi-controlled facilities safe? The regime has an embassy and a “cultural office” in Canberra. How many of its “attaches” might carry out violence against perceived enemies of the regime? 

Until last week, such a question would have been absurd. The disappearance of Khashoggi makes it shockingly real. And our government, keen to flog more weapons to a monstrous theocracy, says nothing.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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