First Amendment freedom of the press and freedom of speech are not universal. The more we learn about the disappearance of The Washington Post contributor Jamal Khashoggi after entering Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Istanbul on October 2, the more we’re reminded of that.
Khashoggi is not a United States citizen, though he was a resident of the state of Virginia and a regular contributor to the global opinions section of The Washington Post at the time of his ill-fated overseas trip. Khashoggi was critical of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s repressive tactics, such as arresting rivals and dissidents, but he didn’t enter the Saudi consulate earlier this month as a journalist. He was there to pick up marriage documents for himself and his fiancée, a Turkish national. The New York Times reported that just a day before his disappearance, Khashoggi told a friend that he feared he could be kidnapped and returned to Saudi Arabia if he entered the consulate.
Audio recordings described by a senior Turkish official were recently released, and indicate that Khashoggi was tortured, beheaded and dismembered by a team of 15 Saudi agents who were waiting for him inside the Saudi consulate. Saudi officials have denied any involvement in Khashoggi’s disappearance and have yet to give a rational explanation for his vanishing. Saudi Arabia and Turkey are currently engaged in a diplomatic feud over the matter. The U.S. dispatched Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to meet with King Salman and try to make sense of what happened.
The Trump administration decided that the U.S. will wait until Saudi Arabia completes its own investigation into Khashoggi’s disappearance before it assigns any blame. If Saudi Arabia was indeed responsible for Khashoggi’s murder it’s unlikely that their report will be an honest account. An independent investigation should be conducted to gain real clarity on what happened on October 2. Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island, the top Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, agrees. He told reporters that getting to the bottom of Khashoggi’s murder, “requires a thorough internal investigation, not something that the Saudis will do.”
President Trump has chosen to proactively run interference for the Saudis, telling reporters that “rogue killers” may have been responsible for Khashoggi’s murder. Protecting U.S. arms sales to Riyadh that could total $110 billion might have motivated President Trump to avoid putting pressure on Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. He continues to tweet support for his good friend who “totally denied” any knowledge of what took place within the consulate:
Khashoggi knew that speaking out about the corruption and villainy of the Crown Prince could endanger him. And he did it anyway. He knew how important freedom of speech is to democratic rule, and he was willing to risk his life to shine a truthful light on repressive leadership in his native country. In an excerpt from a September column in The Washington Post Khashoggi wrote, “When I speak of the fear, intimidation, arrests and public shaming of intellectuals and religious leaders who dare to speak their minds, and then I tell you that I’m from Saudi Arabia, are you surprised?”
He went on to acknowledge his silence when friends were arrested several years ago, fearful for his job and his family. In explaining the belated decision to raise his voice, Khashoggi observed, “To do otherwise would betray those who languish in prison. I can speak when so many cannot. I want you to know that Saudi Arabia has not always been as it is now. We Saudis deserve better.”
The National Federation of Press Women joined with 29 journalism and free press organizations in urging a full investigation into Jamal Khashoggi’s murder on October 2, 2018. Illinois Woman’s Press Association fully supports this call. We agree that threats of violence, kidnapping or death for journalists seeking the truth and reporting it, is unacceptable to the principles of freedom and democracy around the world.