Crimes against Journalists: Who was Jamal Khashoggi and what his killing means for press freedom

Jamal Khashoggi, a prominent Saudi Arabian journalist, went into his country’s consulate in Istanbul on October 2 to obtain a marriage certificate, but never returned; while, his fiancée, Hatice Cengiz waited outside for him for hours.

A strong critic of his home country’s rulers, Khashoggi, as per Turkish officials, was strangled to death by the Saudi agents inside the consulate.

While Saudi Arabia, after initial denials and claims that the journalist had safely left the consulate, admitted Khashoggi’s death saying he was killed in a “rogue operation”.

A month has passed since the incident, but the fate of the Khashoggi’s death still remains a mystery.


What possibly led to Khashoggi’s murder?

Born in Medina in 1958, Khashoggi started his journalism career in the 1980’s as a reporter for a regional newspaper. It was the time when the media’s prime focus was on the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

He came under the limelight for interviewing the late Al-Qaeda leader, Osama Bin Laden, several times during the 1980s and 90s, also having covered many other major events like the first Gulf War in Kuwait.

It was in 2003 when he became the Editor of an English daily Al Watan but was fired within two months for publishing stories that strongly criticised the Saudi government.

Despite controversies and critical approach towards the government, Khashoggi was still close to the Saudi royal family over the years and also served as an adviser to the government.

However, things took an ugly turn last year, when he had a fall-out with the government over Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s controversial tactics, which involved arresting of about 200 Saudi nationals.

Ultimately, this led Khashoggi to leave Saudi Arabia for the US and since then, the reporter had been a strong critic of the government policies and the prince. In his very first column for The Washington Post, he came hard on the Prince Mohammed’s crackdown.

“I have left my home, my family and my job, and I am raising my voice. 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,” he wrote.

Fifteen days after Khashoggi’s disappearance, The Washington Post published his last article where he called for freedom of press across the Arab world.

“Arab governments have been given free rein to continue silencing the media at an increasing rate… These governments, whose very existence relies on the control of information, have aggressively blocked the Internet. They have also arrested local reporters and pressured advertisers to harm the revenue of specific publications,” he wrote.


What does Saudi say?

For more than two weeks, Saudi Arabia consistently denied any knowledge of Khashoggi’s whereabouts.

“We have nothing to hide,” Prince Mohammed told Bloomberg News, claiming that the journalist had left the consulate after a “few minutes or an hour”.

The Saudi Arabian government has so far vehemently denied allegations the journalist was murdered.

Prince Mohammed’s brother and the Saudi ambassador to the US, Prince Khaled bin Salman, as well termed all reports about the journalist’s disappearance or death as “completely false and baseless”.

However, the state television reported the journalist had, in fact, “died in the consulate after a fight”. It said that Khashoggi had been murdered in a “rogue operation” and vowed to punish “those responsible”. Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir, while talking to the Fox News, described the journalist’s killing as “murder”, and admitted that “a tremendous mistake” has been made. He, however, denied any involvement of the crown prince.


What does Turkey say?

On October 31, Turkey gave its first official statement saying that Khashoggi was strangled to death and his body was dismembered.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had earlier said that they have the evidence that Khashoggi’s “murder was pre-planned”.

He alleged that the Saudi government sent three teams of 15 Saudi nationals specifically flown into Istanbul to murder Khashoggi inside the consulate.

“Why was a team of 15 Saudi men, all with qualifications related to the incident, gathering in Istanbul on the day of the murder? We are seeking answers to this question. On whose orders did those individuals go there?’’ questioned the President.

Turkey’s pro-government newspaper Yeni Safak quoted sources as saying that the Saudi consul general can be heard on one tape warning the agents: “Do this outside. You’re going to get me in trouble.”

“Shut up if you want to live when you return to [Saudi] Arabia,” a person can reportedly be heard telling the diplomat on another tape.

President Erdagon has also demanded the Saudi officials to provide proof that Khashoggi left the consulate.

“Do you not have cameras and everything of the sort?” Erdogan said. “They have all of them. Then why do you not prove this? You need to prove it.”


UN experts have demanded and independent investigation into Khashoggi’s murder

A group of independent, United Nations-appointed human right experts said in a statement: “The only way forward is to establish an independent, transparent and credible investigation into his murder, one authorised by and reporting to the United Nations. Anything short of a complete investigation, recognised as such by the international community, will make a mockery of government claims of commitment to the safety of journalists.”

Terming the continuous violence against journalists as “toxic”, particularly the killing of Khashoggi, the experts condemned the response of UN member states, the international community and the UN itself.

“These last weeks have demonstrated once again the toxic nature and outsized reach of political incitement against journalists, and we demand that it stop,” the statement read.


‘Strengthen press freedom, ensure justice for crimes committed against journalists’

In the backdrop of constant violence against journalists across the world, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has called on all governments to “strengthen press freedom”.

A spokesperson for Guterres said in a statement: “We’re very concerned about a number of recent cases and reports of violence against journalists, including the murder of Viktoria Marinova in Bulgaria and the disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi.”

“…A free press is essential for peace, justice and human rights for all.”

“He (Guterres) reiterates his call on all governments to strengthen press freedom including ensuring there is justice and accountability for crimes committed against journalists,” the statement read.


Attacks on press freedom in Kashmir

Over the months, several instances of violence against the journalists have been reported across Kashmir valley, with a major highlight being the assassination of the renowned editor Shujaat Bukhari.

On June 14, Bukhari was shot dead outside his office by unknown gunmen in Srinagar’s Press Enclave. Five months have passed, the investigation has gone nowhere.

A journalist Asif Sultan is under detention from over two months now. The police have accused the reporter of “harbouring” militants.

However, as per Asif’s Editor, “the police have framed Sultan as they were not happy with his reporting”.

ALSO READ: #JournalismIsNotACrime: List of Journalists killed and attacked in Kashmir proves otherwise

Asif, in one of his reports, had quoted the close aids of slain Hizbul Mujaheedin commander Burhan Wani, whose killing had put Kashmir on the boil in 2016.

Press Censorship in Kashmir has become a common norm, with instances like detaining of local journalists, physical violence against reporters and photojournalists, and so on.

So far, since 1990, 19 journalists have been killed in Kashmir.


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