Natural History Museum face criticism for hosting Saudi Embassy after alleged murder of journalist

Ben Wray

Saudi regime’s bombing of Yemen has caused a mass cholera outbreak among citizens

THE Natural History Museum has faced fierce criticism from human rights campaigners for hosting a reception for the Saudi embassy, as claims that a journalist critical of the Saudi regime was murdered in the country’s Turkish embassy remain.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan today [11 October] urged Saudi Arabia to release images proving journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was last seen entering the consulate building in Istanbul before disappearing last week, had left the building, after the Saudi Government denied claims they had murdered the Saudi national.

The Turkish Government believe Khashoggi was murdered inside the walls of the Consulate building, and have demanded that Saudi Arabia prove their version of events – that Khashoggi left the building “after a few minutes or one hour”.

CNN has reported US Intelligence officials who have intercepts of Saudi officials discussing a plan to lure Khashoggi back to Saudi Arabia to detain him, and that getting the journalist to the Consulate appears to be a back up plan.

READ MORE: Belgium has suspended arms sales to Saudi Arabia – human rights campaigners say UK must do the same

The Saudi dictatorship is also engaged in a brutal war in Yemen, which has led to a mass cholera outbreak in the country. The regime enjoys close diplomatic and military ties with the UK, which has sold £4.7 billion in arms to Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman’s Kingdom since the bombing of Yemen started in 2015.

Andrew Smith from Campaign Against Arms Trade criticised the Museum’s decision to host the Saudi Embassy.

“The Natural History Museum is a very prestigious venue and should not be hosting a regime which has been accused of killing journalists and is inflicting a humanitarian catastrophe on the people of Yemen,” he said.

“The Saudi authorities have a contempt for human rights, and events like this will undoubtedly be regarded as an endorsement. It’s time for the Museum to take a stand.”

The New York Times has announced it has pulled out of a planned event in Saudi Arabia after the alleged murder of Khashoggi. The Financial Times, CNN, CNBC, Bloomberg and the Economist are all still scheduled to attend the event, as well big banks and accountancy firms.

READ MORE: As famine threatens Yemen following Saudi offensive on Hodeidah, campaigners demand UK ends its complicity

Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, Director of the Bahrain Institute for Rights & Democracy, said the decision of the Natural History Museum to go ahead with the event will damage their reputation.

Alwadaei stated: “Hosting the Saudi embassy so soon after the alleged murder of a dissident journalist will taint the museum’s reputation. Conducting business as usual with the Saudi regime normalises its crimes and emboldens it to continue its policy of repression and abuse.”

A spokesperson for the Natural History Museum responded to the criticism by telling CommonSpace: “The Natural History Museum was booked by the Saudi embassy over two months ago as a venue for an external event to celebrate Saudi Arabia Day. No Museum staff are attending as guests or speaking at the event.

“Enabling commercial events to take place outside of public opening hours in our iconic spaces brings the Museum an important source of external funding, which allows us to maintain our position as a world class scientific research centre and visitor attraction. We hold a wide variety of commercial events and it is made clear to any host that doing so is not an endorsement of their product, service or views.”

READ MORE: SNP anti-war campaigners demand end to Scottish public funding of arms merchants

Khashoggi had previously served as an adviser to the Saudi regime and an editor of the pro-regime Al-Watan newspaper, but he became a critic after several of his friends were arrested in what Bin Salman claimed was a crackdown on corruption, and left for the US.

US President Donald Trump vowed to “get to the bottom” of Khashoggi’s disappearance, stating: “We cannot let this happen to reporters, to anybody. We’re demanding everything. We want to see what’s going on there.”

Saudi Arabia is a close ally of the United States, and was one of the first countries Trump visited after his inauguration as president in January last year.

Arms manufacturing firm Raytheon make munitions for the Saudi regime and have a factory in Glenrothes. The firm has received grant funding from Scottish Enterprise, which claims the money is used to “diversify” the arms firm’s portfolio and is not used for arms used in the bombing in Yemen. However, after the Sunday Mail asked for documented evidence that this is what the money is used for, the Scottish Government quango could not provide any.

Picture courtesy of Thorsten Hansen