Senate debates

Thursday, 15 November 2018


Khashoggi, Mr Jamal

6:54 pm

Photo of Lisa SinghLisa Singh (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

On 2 October, Jamal Khashoggi, a citizen of Saudi Arabia, walked into its Istanbul consulate to obtain a simple marriage document while his wife waited outside. What happened next has shocked the world. Khashoggi would never return. Six weeks later, we now know that he was murdered brutally in the consulate in what was a premeditated event. The details of his death have yet to be confirmed, but all reports agree that he was tortured and his body has yet to be located. Horrific rumours abound. We are living in extraordinary times. The norms and values that underpin international peace, security and prosperity are being eroded. As Bill Shorten said in his recent speech at the Lowy Institute:

The international order in which Australia has operated since the Second World War is being disrupted.

The effect of this disruption is becoming increasingly clear. Khashoggi's murder could only have been sanctioned by individuals who calculated their actions would be met with impunity. Indeed, in the immediate aftermath of the event, incorrect claims were made by Saudi officials that the consulate was sovereign, connoting immunity from prosecution and echoing nationalist rhetoric that has now unfortunately become an all-too-familiar excuse for abdicating moral and legal responsibility.

But international law is clear. Khashoggi's murder occurred on Turkish soil, and Turkish law applies. Of great concern, however, is the reason Khashoggi was targeted in the first place—for exercising the right to freedom of speech, a right guaranteed under every human rights treaty. Across the world, freedom of speech and, importantly, freedom of the press are deteriorating. Very few bright spots remain. According to Freedom House, only 13 per cent of the world's population enjoys a free press, and, as The Economist recently observed, it is becoming a luxury limited only to Western states. It is axiomatic that, in the absence of an unfettered press, democracy dies and corruption flourishes, and, right now, there are perhaps no regions more hostile to the transparent press than the Middle East and North Africa. Indeed, Freedom House observes that only Israel has something close to resembling a free press, while Iran and Syria are among the world's 10 most restrictive countries on press freedoms. Across the region, the Arab Spring brought freedom to very few countries. Tunisia is perhaps a stand-out. Australians watched with anger and despair in 2014 as one of our own very fine journalists, Peter Greste, along with his Al Jazeera colleagues, was arrested and jailed in Egypt. I acknowledge the efforts of our diplomats and the former foreign minister, Julie Bishop, in securing Peter's release.

Khashoggi's demise is the clearest example yet of the lengths to which some regimes will go to silence freedom of speech. Khashoggi was a veteran Saudi journalist and a former government adviser. After becoming critical of the government and seeing what was happening to his counterparts who expressed criticism, he fled to the United States and lived there in exile. He was a columnist at The Washington Post, writing, as its editorial page editor, Fred Hiatt, said, 'out of a sense of love for his country and deep faith in human dignity and freedom'. In what would become his final column, released posthumously, Khashoggi highlighted that the Arab world suffers from poverty, mismanagement and poor education. His articles pleaded for improvements in human rights, for peace in Yemen, for the end of political meddling and corruption across the Arab world, and for women's rights. These pleas of course are not confined to the Arab world. Human rights, democratic values and civil rights are being devalued worldwide. Recently, the United States withdrew altogether from the United Nations peak human rights body, the Human Rights Council. Even here in Australia we all are aware that more can be done to progress human rights.

But Khashoggi's murder has brought human rights back to the forefront of international relations. Condemnation from many in the international community has been swift, but it is only the starting point. Protecting and upholding human rights must be a priority. A United Nations investigation is necessary and those responsible for this heinous act must be brought to justice. That is why I am pleased to learn that Turkey has now called for an international investigation into the killing of Jamal Khashoggi. This was a level of treachery the world has been rightly shocked by. It involved extrajudicial torture, murder and forced disappearance.

Australia and the international community must be unequivocal that such brazen acts, indeed any derogation of human rights, will never, ever be tolerated.