By Harry Sutton ’20
On October 2, 2018, Washington Post journalist and Saudi Arabian native Jamal Khashoggi entered the Saudi Arabian Embassy in Turkey and never came out.
Khashoggi was a famous journalist for many years, working in Saudi Arabia from 1983 to 2003, and then again from 2007 to 2010. He worked for publications including Al Watan, Saudi Gazette, Al Madina, Arab News and Okaz. Khashoggi was exiled from Saudi Arabian news in 2003, when he allowed a columnist to criticize a highly regarded Saudi scholar, Ibn Taymiyya. Khashoggi was relocated to London, but in 2007, Al Watan employed him again as Editor-in-Chief. In 2010, Khashoggi was forced to resign yet again, due to displeasure from higher-ups after articles were published criticizing the Kingdom’s harsh Islamic rules.
In September 2017, Khashoggi moved to the United States and began writing for the The Washington Post. During his time with the Post, Khashoggi wrote articles criticizing Saudi Arabia’s blockade against Qatar, their dispute with Lebanon, their dispute with Canada and the arrest of women’s rights activist, Loujain al-Hathloul. The Spectator called Khashoggi the most famous political pundit in the Arab world, appearing frequently on significant British and American news channels.
In 2018, Khashoggi created a political party called Democracy for the Arab World Now, posing a threat to the royal Arab crown and causing political uproar. Khashoggi’s clear opposition of the political structure and many of the political choices of the Saudi government made him an enemy of the nation, which lead to his disappearance in October 2018 at the Saudi embassy.
On October 2, 2018, Khashoggi entered the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul at around 1 p.m. Video evidence showed Khashoggi entering the consulate, but after he did not emerge by 5 p.m., his fiancé, Hatice Cengiz, reported his disappearance to the police. Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Turkey stated that Khashoggi left the Consulate shortly after his entrance, but on October 6, Turkish investigators concluded that Khashoggi was murdered by a 15 member team of Saudi agents.
Despite forensics, Turkish investigations and hundreds of publications pointing the blame towards a conspiracy in the Saudi Consulate, President Trump told reporters that it could have been “rogue killers” who murdered Khashoggi inside the consulate. Later that day, Turkish investigators were allowed into the Saudi consulate, five Saudi top officials were fired, and 18 others were arrested after declaring that Khashoggi was killed in a fistfight. On October 25, Saudi authorities state that he was killed pre-meditatively. The belief is that Khashoggi was strangled and his body was destroyed in acid.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan stated that the order to kill Khashoggi “came from the highest levels of the Saudi government.” Khashoggi had an undeniably rough past with the Saudi government, and, following Khashoggi’s disappearance, The Washington Post shined a light on an extensive history of the Saudi government attempting to silence its opponents.
Saudi Arabia’s public prosecutor indicted 11 people on November 15, but the United States imposed sanctions on 17 Saudis allegedly involved in the murder. The Treasury Department stated that the 17 “targeted and brutally killed a journalist.” Senators later discovered major involvement of Mohammad bin Salman, and despite defense from President Trump, the Senate voted to condemn bin Salman on December 13. On February 7, the UN stated its belief that Khashoggi’s death was a government plot. Many say that the United States did not take enough action against the wrongdoings of the Saudis, and a group of senators introduced a plan to increase congressional oversight and suspend U.S. weapon sales to Saudi Arabia.
While the UN, the U.S. Senate, Turkish investigators and government and numerous global publications claim that bin Salman and the Saudi government were responsible for Khashoggi’s premeditated murder, Mohammad has denied any involvement.
On April 1, it was discovered that Khashoggi’s children had received million-dollar homes in Saudi Arabia as well as monthly five-figure payments as clear and direct compensation for Khashoggi’s death. Saudi officials are admitting to these payments, but they are still not taking responsibility for the killing. While all fingers are pointed at the Saudi government, many nations are hesitant to persecute Mohammad and the government for their wrongdoings, as their exports are globally crucial to the economy, and Saudi trade is important for many nations.
Khashoggi’s assassination was a highly-publicized and horrible occurrence of a crime that takes places far too frequently, and not only in Saudi Arabia. His death has shed light on a historical and terrible truth: when a journalist puts pen to paper, they risk their career and their lives and it is extremely difficult to have an opinion that is publicized in nations where free speech is denied. Journalists’ fears are not simply that people will disagree with them or combat their points, but that their lives will be put at stake when they make their voices heard. Saudi Arabia, and many other nations around the world, including the United States, have histories of muzzling opinions that oppose the government, and journalists have been harmed, threatened or even killed for simply having an opinion.
Khashoggi’s death shows the atrocity of oppression of free speech and press throughout the world. We were all robbed of a promoter of free speech and a talented reporter, at the hands of a corrupt government who harms its non-violent enemies. Due to Saudi Arabia’s high economic stature, nations are afraid to end ties in the Middle East, and bin Salman has not been forced to take responsibility for his offense.