For Canada, the G20 summit in Saudi Arabia could be far more tense than most

Evan Dyer · CBC News

Ottawa has won UN praise for its public stances on Saudi offences – but it’s still on for the summit

The coming Group of Seven summit takes place next month in Biarritz, a town known for topless bathing — not beheading.

The next Group of 20 summit, however, will be held next November in an altogether more forbidding environment: Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. It will take place in the modern surroundings of the new King Abdullah Financial District, with 59 towers and a few architectural wonders.

But for a taste of the real Saudi Arabia, summiteers need only take a cab south on King Fahd Road. In about half an hour they’ll come to Deera Square, colloquially known as ‘Chop-chop Square’ for its frequent public executions.

Despite praise from western governments for his supposedly modernizing ways, Saudi Arabia’s crown prince Mohammed bin Salman (often known as MBS) has overseen a near-doubling in the number of executions.

The swordsmen were busy on April 23, when Saudi Arabia executed 37 people in one day. All but four were members of the country’s persecuted Shia minority. The body and severed head of one of the 37 was put on public display.

The next group of condemned individuals set for execution in Saudi Arabia includes Murtaja Qureiris, who has been in prison since the age of 13. He’s accused of crimes that include leading a protest of children on bicycles during the Arab Spring movement — when he was ten.

Murder in the consulate

Many of those executed in Saudi Arabia are poor foreigners. Saudi Arabia has sentenced people to die in recent years for such crimes as witchcraft, making potions and predicting the future. Under MBS, political opponents of the royal family have made up a large percentage of those executed.

But the killing that made Saudi Arabia uniquely controversial as a site for a G20 summit was — unlike the ones in Deera Square — never meant to be seen by the wider world.

Jamal Khashoggi’s murder in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul has been a public relations disaster for a kingdom that has worked hard to present a face to the world very different from the one it shows at home.

According to the report of UN special rapporteur Agnes Callamard, Turkish microphones captured the killing and dismemberment of Khashoggi, while his fiancee waited outside for him, unaware. Turkish cameras captured one of Khashoggi’s killers leaving the consulate wearing the dead man’s clothes.

And Turkish wiretaps captured the communications between the hit squad and home base, leading foreign intelligence services to conclude that the murder realistically could not have been carried out without the approval of Mohammed bin Salman.

The prince’s response was to deny everything and arrest the hitmen. Riyadh has made it clear that, if found guilty, they too will be headed for Chop-chop Square.

Callamard said the Saudi investigation can’t be expected to produce a true or just outcome. She wants to see a credible probe that assigns individual responsibility and examines the role of prime suspect Mohammed bin Salman.

“The holding of the G20 in Saudi Arabia next year is a slap in the face of all those who have fought and some of whom have died for accountability and human rights protections,” she told CBC News, calling for the summit to be moved.


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