By Christian Hess, Contributor
We must always remind ourselves that journalists must not only be able to report on events as they occur, but to also be able to do so without fear for their lives or otherwise. By honoring those like Jamal Khashoggi and sharing his story, we can assure his sacrifice is not forgotten and that we continue to fight for the freedom of information and knowledge.
On October 2nd, 2018, journalist Jamal Khashoggi visited the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul, Turkey to obtain divorce documents so that he could marry his fiancé, Hatice Cengiz. Unbeknownst to the world at this time, he was allegedly killed by a death squad during this visit. The Saudi Arabian government initially claimed that Khashoggi had departed the consulate, but Khashoggi’s fiancé stated she never saw him emerge from the building. Several days later, the Turkish government officials issued a statement that Khashoggi was killed within the consulate but with no further explanation. Turkey would go on to release CCTV footage that showed a member of the squad purportedly wearing Khashoggi’s clothes in an attempt to further the claim that Khashoggi had left the consulate and not been killed within. On October 19th, the Saudi Arabian government admitted that Khashoggi had been killed inside the consulate, but that it had occurred due to a fistfight. However, it still remains unclear what actually happened to Khashoggi that dark day.
Jamal Khashoggi was a prominent journalist whose career spanned decades, covering multiple historic political events from 1985 onward. Notable events include the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan and Osama Bin Laden’s rise. He would become close to the royal family of Saudi Arabia, yet would depart for the United States of America in 2017 after Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman began a series of crackdowns against intellectuals and journalists. While in the United States, Khashoggi would go on to become a U.S. resident and write forThe Washington Post.
As time progressed, details began to emerge as to what happened on the day of Khashoggi’s disappearance. Further investigations by the Turkish government yielded more gruesome results in Khashoggi’s death. The crown prince of Saudi Arabia had sent a fifteen-man team to Istanbul. Reports show that Saud al-Qahtani, an advisor to the crown prince, called via Skype to the team in the consulate and told them to “bring me the head of the dog.” Following this, the Turkish government stated that Khashoggi was killed and his body dismembered. The Turkish government officials began searching forests surrounding Istanbul for remnants of Khashoggi’s body. Ultimately, the Turkish officials concluded that the crown prince of Saudi Arabia had ordered the killing.
The international community was shocked at the allegation that the Crown Prince ordered the killing. Previously, he was viewed with hope by others in the international community, particularly furthering of rights for women in Saudi Arabia. The United States President Donald Trump would go on to defend the crown prince, stating that he did not believe the Muhammad Bin Salman ordered the killing, and that Saudi Arabia was a key ally to the United States. The Central Intelligence Agency agreed with the Turkish officials that the crown prince was responsible. On December 13th, 2018, the United States Senate voted 56-to-41 to end U.S. assistance to Saudi Arabia for their war in Yemen, citing the killing of Khashoggi. Saudi Arabia issued a statement decrying the resolution.
In 2018, the number of journalists killed in the world totaled 34, with the United States among the top five countries. Article 19 of the United Nations’ Declaration of Human Rights states, “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.” Human rights are not always progressive- they may backslide if not fought for and must continuously be pursued. We must always remind ourselves that journalists must not only be able to report on events as they occur, but to also be able to do so without fear for their lives or otherwise. By honoring those like Jamal Khashoggi and sharing his story, we can assure his sacrifice is not forgotten and that we continue to fight for the freedom of information and knowledge.
Author: Christian Hess is a Ph.D. student at the Rutgers’ Division of Global Affairs in Newark.