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Editorial : The murder of a journalist

【明報專訊】JAMAL Khashoggi, a Washington Post reporter of Saudi Arabian descent, was missing for a number of days. Now the Saudi Arabian authorities have finally admitted that he was killed in the Saudi Arabian consulate in Turkey. The official explanation of the incident, however, was grossly dubious, and the fact that Khashoggi's body has yet to be found has fuelled rumours that he was dismembered alive. The murder of Khashoggi is redolent of the murder of Chiang Nan in the 1980s, which shocked Taiwan, and the assassination of Kim Jong-nam last year. The murder has shattered the moderate, liberal image consciously cultivated by Saudi Arabia in recent years and exposed its authoritarian and dictatorial nature. With his soft criticism and the absence of "maximum pressure", US president Donald Trump is actually offering a great help to Saudi Arabia, which accentuates the superiority of political interests in the international arena. The so-called moral high ground is only for political spinning. The case of Khashoggi is another ugly chapter of international politics with cover-ups by the powerful, who try to play down the matter. Such being the case, it is difficult to unearth the truth.

The Saudi Arabian government first blamed Khashoggi's death on a botched operation of rogue agents, stressing that it had nothing to do with the prince. But the explanation was highly suspicious. Why was a team of agents sent simply to persuade Khashoggi to return to his country? Why did an argument turn into an assassination? There were not any convincing explanations for all this. What confounds people most is why Khashoggi died without his body found. The Saudi Arabian authorities claimed that Khashoggi's body was handed over to a "local cooperator" before it went missing. If Khashoggi had died of suffocation, the person who disposed of his body would have had no reason to ask for trouble by dismembering Khashoggi's body. It is certain that the Saudi Arabian authorities know the identity of the local cooperator. If Khashoggi was not dismembered alive, the Saudi Arabian authorities should be able to find the place he was buried to scotch rumours of his dismemberment. The Saudi Arabian government's explanations change every day. The manner in which it is dealing with the matter is woeful, only making the outside world doubtful that it was making up stories to obfuscate matters in an attempt to sit out the crisis. A country whose government subscribes easily to such a theory must be quite problematic.

Saudi Arabia is, in essence, a dictatorial monarchy. It is also the only country that beheads people on death row. However, Saudi Arabia is also a main ally of the Western world, whose petroleum in abundance is of the utmost importance. The White House has always helped Saudi Arabia profoundly with its mild criticism over human rights matters, which was the same way as how it handled US-friendly dictatorships in Latin America. The so-called "international opinion" is dominated by the Western narrative. The media is more interested in hearsay about "execution by dogs" and "execution by cannons" than Saudi Arabia's imprisonment and execution of dissidents. Saudi Arabia is a hotbed of Islamic extremism, and is related to Al-Qaeda, a terrorist group, and ISIS. However, the Western world is obviously more tolerant towards Saudi Arabia, regarding Iran as the real villain. Even though Saudi Arabia has interfered in the Yemeni civil war in recent years and carried out bombing with reckless abandon and is said to have detained the prime minister of Lebanon to force him to resign, Western countries mostly treat these incidents lightly. Iran, in contrast, has often been accused by the US of sponsoring terrorism and threatening its neighbours.

It remains to be seen how the White House will handle the case of Khashoggi. However, given the fact that the White House has turned a blind eye to Saudi Arabia's reckless bombing of civilian facilities in Yemen, it is very doubtful indeed whether Trump will take a strong stand against Saudi Arabia because of Khashoggi's case.

明報社評2018.10.23:強權包庇真相難尋 記者遇害醜陋一章

美國《華盛頓郵報》沙特裔記者卡舒吉(Jamal Khashoggi)失蹤多日,沙特阿拉伯政府終於承認他在沙特駐土耳其領事館遇害,惟官方解釋疑點重重,卡舒吉遺體下落不明,更令活生生肢解等說法不脛而走。卡舒吉遇害令人想起1980年代初轟動台灣的江南案,以及去年的金正男毒殺案,事件戳破近年沙特刻意經營的「溫和開明」形象,暴露威權專制本質;美國總統特朗普小罵大幫忙,未見「極限施壓」,則突顯國際政治利益先行,所謂道德高地不過是政治化妝。卡舒吉案是國際政治又一醜陋篇章,強權包庇大事化小,真相大白談何容易。

沙特將卡舒吉之死,歸咎於流氓人員「錯手」,強調與王儲無關,惟疑點實在太多。為何游說卡舒吉回國要「大隊人馬」、為何「講口變講手」,未見合理解說,最令人不明所以是卡舒吉死不見屍。沙特表示卡舒吉遺體交予當地「合作人士」後下落不明。如果卡舒吉僅屬窒息死亡,棄屍者沒理由自找麻煩碎屍,沙特必然知道「合作人士」身分,卡舒吉若非遭人肢解殘殺,沙特當局理應可以找出埋屍之處,平息肢解懷疑。沙特說法天天新款,處理手法拙劣,徒令外界懷疑官方編造故事蒙混過關。如果有政府輕信這樣的解釋,這個國家恐怕頗有問題。

沙特本質是君主專制國家,亦是世上唯一仍採用斬首處決的國家,惟沙特也是西方主要盟友,盛產石油舉足輕重。華府對於沙特人權問題,向來是小罵大幫忙,一如昔日處理拉丁美洲親美獨裁政權一樣。「國際輿論」由西方論述主導,比起沙特囚禁處決異見人士,媒體對道聽塗說的朝鮮「犬決」、「炮決」更感興趣。沙特是伊斯蘭極端主義溫牀,恐怖組織蓋達和「伊斯蘭國」都與沙特有關,可是西方對沙特顯然較為寬容,伊朗才是「頭號歹角」。就算近年沙特介入也門內戰狂轟濫炸,甚至被指扣留黎巴嫩總理逼他宣布辭職,西方多國都是輕輕帶過,倒是伊朗卻常遭美國指控支持恐怖主義威脅鄰國。

這次華府將會怎樣處理卡舒吉案,還須拭目以待,不過當華府對沙特在也門狂轟濫炸平民設施不聞不問,特朗普會否因為卡舒吉之死而對沙特硬起來,確實令人懷疑。

■Glossary

hearsay : things that you have heard from another person but do not (definitely) know to be true

hotbed : a place where a lot of a particular activity, especially sth bad or violent, is happening

abandon : if someone does something with abandon, they behave in a careless or uncontrolled way, without thinking or caring about what they are doing

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