AFTER many days of shameless denials and equivocation, Saudi Arabia has acknowledged that Jamal Khashoggi was killed inside its consulate in Istanbul, Turkey on October 2. Since then, the world has been in a state of disbelief and utter shock. The country claims that discussions between the journalist and its officials escalated to a “fist-fight” that resulted in his death. Khashoggi had gone there to collect a document that would have paved the way for him to marry his Turkish fiancée, Hatice Cengiz. How could this have led to a fight? Governments around the world and institutions have spurned the Saudis’ account and called for a thorough and transparent investigation.
Already, credible evidence suggests that it was an orchestrated murder that saw the arrival of 15 hatchet men at Turkey’s airport from Saudi Arabia on the day he was killed. The Sun of London says, “The international writer had his fingers torn off one by one by his torturers before he was decapitated and his body was later dissolved in acid, according to horrific reports.” Simplifying, therefore, this Hobbesian drama verily unnerves. This is why Karen Attiah, the editor of Washington Post, said “the stupidity of Saudi explanation is mind-boggling.”
Saudi authorities are exhibiting another fig leaf with the arrest of 18 persons and sacking of five public officials, including the Deputy Intelligence Chief, Ahmed al-Assiri, who is a major-general. They can go ahead to scapegoat them. But the authority that gave the order to kill Khashoggi is the prime felon: and all fingers point to the Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman, the man that runs the country. The deceased journalist, who was based in the United States, was a columnist of Washington Post and an adamant critic of the Saudi establishment, especially the crown prince.
However, Turkish authorities say they have audio-video evidence of the horrific act. According to the BBC, Turkish media with close links to the government, had published details of the murder on an alleged audio and “the voice of the consul, Mohammed al-Otaibi, could be heard in the recording,” warning the executioners not to put him in trouble by committing the crime within the enclave. Turkey, on whose soil the crime was committed, will unfurl the facts thereto on Tuesday. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said, “We are looking for justice here, and this will be revealed in all its naked truth, not through some ordinary steps, but in all its naked truth.”
The United Nations, European Union, Britain, Germany, the US, France, Denmark and the Netherlands, among others, have all condemned the murder. But Khashoggi’s killing should not be a subject of mere condemnation. This is an unjustifiable state murder that must be sanctioned. Britain’s position is most welcome. “We are considering next steps,” says its Foreign Office, whereas the Labour Party has called for the suspension of arms sales to the Saudi government.
While the confusion lasted, the UK Foreign Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, after meeting with the Saudi Ambassador in London, admirably said, “Violence against journalists is going up and is a grave threat to freedom of expression. If media reports prove correct we will treat the incident seriously – friendships depend on shared values.”
It is hoped that President Donald Trump of the US will get the message. After eating his words in the jerky view that rogue operatives might have killed Khashoggi, despite the overwhelming video footage that evinced he entered the consulate but did not come out, he is now more concerned about preserving his country’s $110 billion weaponry deal with the Saudi kingdom, than getting it punished for this bestiality. However, Republican senator, Marco Rubio’s hint of what the Congress is likely to do, is reassuring: if Trump’s administration wilts on the matter, the Congress will not. As a matter of fact, all nations that value freedom of expression, liberty and inviolability of human life, should not allow this reincarnation of ISIS’ soullessness inside a Saudi consulate to go unpunished.
The crown prince has demonstrated with this action, his eventual persona on the throne, his façade of a reformer notwithstanding. It is apposite, therefore, for the world to flex its moral authority and pass the message that the clock is ticking against repressive regimes globally. Canada did just that in its diplomatic brawl with Saudi Arabia in August, as it failed to heed her demand to release Samar Badawi – a Canadian citizen – and other human rights campaigners held, in an “unprecedented government crackdown on the women rights movement.” Those detained were accused of undermining Saudi national security and having enemies of the state as allies. Canada immediately froze trade, investments and diplomatic ties with the country. Others should follow the paradigm.
Beyond the diplomatic fray, the business world should not be indifferent to this “ugly, frightening, inhuman case.” The signal from this realm is positive with many corporate giants pulling out of the international investment conference in Saudi Arabia, tagged, Davos in the Desert, starting on Tuesday. Among them are JP Morgan, Ford Motor Company, Airbus, IMF, Bloomberg, Financial Times, CNN, Richard Branson, Uber, Telecom investors and the US Treasury Secretary, Steven Mnuchin.
Khashoggi’s death is indeed, another sad reminder of the fact that journalists are endangered species and the urgent need to hold rogue regimes to account in order to curtail brazen abuse of human rights and human dignity.
In the first four months of 2018, 44 journalists were killed in 18 countries, as against 28 persons in the same period in 2017, reports Press Emblem Campaign, a Geneva-based non-profit organisation. In 2015, 110 journalists were murdered. Saudi Arabia has allies in this infamy in Syria, Afghanistan, Peru, Brazil, Argentina, Cuba, Pakistan, Yemen, Ecuador, Mexico and Guatemala. Therefore, the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, was spot on, in observing that inherent in the Khashoggi saga is the reality that democratic freedoms are under assault globally. It must be checked.