20:33 GMT07 May 2021
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    Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who went missing October 2 after having entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, was “a mild critic” of the Saudi government, peace activist Medea Benjamin told Radio Sputnik Tuesday. Nonetheless, “the royal family makes sure” dissidents are rarely heard, she said, even abroad.

    Since Khashoggi's disappearance a week ago, a flurry of speculation has mounted about his fate, with the Turkish government alleged that Khashoggi was assassinated inside the compound and the Saudis repeatedly denying that Khashoggi was either killed or abducted, Sputnik reported.

    On October 9, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan urged Saudi Arabia to provide evidence that the journalist had exited the diplomatic facility, and the Turkish Foreign Ministry reported that Riyadh had given their consent for the Istanbul consulate to be searched by Turkish authorities.

    Khashoggi, who left Saudi Arabia last year, claiming that he feared retribution for his criticism of the Saudi war in Yemen and the growing crackdown on dissent, was a regular opinion columnist for the Washington Post. The Post reported Saturday that a 15-man Saudi assassination team had been sent to Turkey "specifically for the murder" of Khashoggi, who was last seen at the consulate where he'd gone to get the necessary documents for his upcoming wedding. His fiancee reported his disappearance after waiting outside the consulate for five hours and being told that he had already left, Anadolu News Agency reported.

    Following US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's urging Tuesday for the Saudi government to support a "thorough investigation," State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said at a press briefing that "We don't have any information" about whether or not Khashoggi is alive.

    Medea Benjamin, the co-founder of anti-war activist organization Codepink: A Voice for Peace and author of the book "Kingdom of the Unjust: Behind the U.S.-Saudi Connection," told Radio Sputnik's Fault Lines Tuesday that "mild critic" Khashoggi's disappearance is egg on the faces of everyone who hailed Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman as a reformer and a liberal.

    [interview begins at 76:00]

    ​"It's amazing how much the story of this Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman got out that he was a reformist," Benjamin told hosts Garland Nixon and Lee Stranahan. "It's clear that he paid a lot of money to a lot of PR firms to make that case. So when he travelled around the United States, meeting with media moguls and Hollywood folks and presidents of Ivy League universities and business elites — everywhere he went he was feted as this reformist. Meantime, he was doing all kinds of crackdowns on people from women's rights activists, scholars, human rights activists-"

    "His own relatives," Nixon interjected. "He was locking up other Saudi princes, shaking them down for money."

    "Exactly," Benjamin agreed, "and calling it an anti-corruption campaign, when he had no due process, would extort billions of dollars from them — to him! And causing all kinds of havoc internationally, mostly in neighboring Yemen, but also causing a rift in the Gulf states by picking on Qatar, by kidnapping the prime minister of Lebanon, on and on. The guy is out of control, and yet here he was, called ‘this liberal.'"

    Benjamin noted that "those same people" who hailed bin Salman before, "some of them are speaking up, but most of them are not. In fact, yesterday I spent the whole day finding the Twitter handles of everybody he met with and the 24 different companies that worked for him in the United States to give him this image, and saying, ‘Hey, where's your statement about Jamal Khashoggi now? What do you think of this reformed prince that you have been touting?' So yes, it's important to recognize that the idea that Saudi Arabia was somehow reforming itself from an absolute monarchy is ridiculous."

    However, Benjamin noted that Khashoggi wasn't "an extreme critic… he didn't consider himself a dissident; he considered himself part of a loyal opposition. He never criticized the monarchy. He never said there should be elections in Saudi Arabia. What he did say is, he didn't like the abuses, the human rights abuses, from the crown prince. And he started out as a supporter of the [Saudi] war in Yemen and only turned when it was really getting ugly, and it was clear that this wasn't gonna be an easy win. So he was a mild critic."

    Noting that a mutual hatred of Iran has drawn together Saudi Arabia and Israel — once bitter enemies — Benjamin noted, "Some say this disappearance of Khashoggi has the imprint of Israel, because Israel is infamous for offing people that it doesn't like around the world. Israel gets away with it because the United States covers up everything that Israel does, but the Saudis are obviously not as adept at doing this as the Israelis."

    Benjamin noted that "you're not gonna hear from" political dissidents in Saudi Arabia, people who would like to see the government transition away from an absolute monarchy to a democratic system, for example, because they are in prison, "some of them executed, some of them facing long jail sentences, and some of them — many of them — [are] abroad. It's also interesting how little you hear from them abroad," she noted, saying that "they are terrified even abroad. They're worried about what's going to happen to their families back home, and Saudi Arabia is like, the royal family are like the mafia: they go after people wherever they are, as we're seeing now."

    "You rarely hear the voices of Saudis because the royal family makes sure of that."

    The views and opinions expressed in the article do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.


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