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Khashoggi’s Death: Government Relationships with Dissidents

By Indira Walsh (‘19) and Erin Walsh (‘21)

Photo courtesy of Amnesty International Canada

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has vowed to reveal the full extent of what his aides are calling the Saudi-directed murder and attempted cover-up of Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul.

The Saudi Arabian government has been accused of torturing and later cutting Khashoggi’s body to pieces inside Istanbul's Saudi consulate. The Crown Prince, known as MBS, has been found by the CIA to have given the order for Khashoggi to be killed.

According to The Washington Post, there is conclusive evidence that “at least 12 members of the Saudi team are connected to Saudi security services, and several have links to [Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman], according to a review of passport records, social media, local media reports and other material.”

These 12 members were all traveling on planes and entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul before Khashoggi arrived.

Though President Erdoğan stated that he had provided alleged recordings of Khashoggi’s death to the United States, to Germany, to France, to Britain and to other countries, only Canada recognized that they had both received and listened to the tape.

Many people believe that changing United States policy towards Saudi Arabia would weaken financial interests.

Vox reported that “A good sign that Trump’s argument on this score doesn’t make sense is that he keeps making factually inaccurate assertions about it. In Tuesday’s statement, for example, he repeated an earlier reference to a nonexistent $450 billion deal he supposedly struck with the Saudi government. In his October version of this fake deal, it was going to produce a million jobs. But as Alexia Fernández Campbell has written several times for Vox, Trump is massively overstating the jobs impact of Saudi arms sales. The entire US defense production industry employs fewer than 400,000 people, so there can’t possibly be a million jobs tied up specifically in Saudi-related production.”

In other words, Saudi Arabia receives access to advanced military technology for their war in Yemen, but in terms of the American economy, these transactions are completed at a cost to the United States because the people and equipment employed could be building things for Americans to use instead.

Matthew Yglesias noted that “‘Don’t murder our people’ and ‘Don’t use embassies located in allied countries as killing zones’ are not airy values. They are interests too. The United States is a major global power, and Saudi Arabia is a midsize country at best. We have an interest in not being pushed around by our client state, and it’s ridiculous to accept the framing that us giving them access to advanced military technology is a favor they do for us. The global economy has changed enormously since the 1980s, and the United States no longer relies on Saudi oil production to keep prices moderate; the American defense industry is not a major source of jobs, anyway.”

According to Patrick Wintour of The Guardian, though there have been limited efforts on the part of other nations to place pressure on Saudi Arabia, “Canada has taken a tough line on Saudi Arabia’s human rights record for months, provoking reprisals from Riyadh, including the withdrawal of investment. The dispute over the tape is important as it concerns Erdoğan’s credibility. He has been pushing for the west to demand that Saudi Arabia hand over the alleged culprits behind the admitted killing. He has also implied that Prince Mohammed was aware of the plot to kill Khashoggi and that it was not a rogue operation undertaken by Saudi intelligence without his knowledge or permission.”

Jamal Khashoggi is not the only journalist to have suffered this fate.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) noted that between 2006 and 2017, over 1,000 journalists were killed for reporting the news and bringing information to the public.

During 2006-2017, a journalist was killed every four days.

In nine out of ten cases, the perpetrators are unpunished.

UNESCO reported, “Impunity leads to more killings and is often a symptom of worsening conflict and the breakdown of law and judicial systems. UNESCO is concerned that impunity damages whole societies by covering up serious human rights abuses, corruption, and crime. Governments, civil society, the media, and everyone concerned to uphold the rule of law are being asked to join in the global efforts to end impunity.”

These deaths exemplify an apparent failure of the international community to implement actual measures of accountability.

Samira Mohamed, public relations officer for SBHS’s Amnesty International chapter, said “I feel like the Saudi Arabian government really gets away with anything, especially when it comes to human rights injustices. The only time they maybe get penalized is when it directly affects America’s image. Amnesty has a Write for Rights event every year where people can write letters for prisoners of conscience and/or human rights defenders. Khashoggi’s case is an example of someone Amnesty would act for.”

Here are accounts of some of the journalists who have recently gone missing:

On June 14, the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project said “Serbian journalist Stefan Cvetkovic, known for criticizing local authorities, was reported missing Wednesday evening from the Vojvodina town of Bela Crkva in Serbia”.

In May, Cvetkovic told Beta, a Serbian news agency, that he was forcibly detained for six hours at the Jarinje administrative crossing point in northern Kosovo. After he was freed, Cvetkovic received a document confirming he was detained for his investigation into the murder of a Oliver Ivanovic, a Kosovo political.

Reported by the Committee to Protect Journalists, “Reda Helal, an editor with Egypt's semiofficial daily Al-Ahram, has been missing since August 11, 2003”. Helal was considered controversial for his outspoken support for the U.S.-led war in Iraq.

Many human rights activists have also disappeared in similar fashions to journalists.

Critics say that Saudi Arabia is a particular contributor to detention, torture, and killing of activists.

According to Amnesty International, human rights activist and prisoner of conscience Husham Ali Mohammad Ali was “arrested by the Saudi Arabian authorities in November 2017 and held in solitary confinement until January 2018, when he was moved to shared cell. In March 2018, he was moved from Dhaban prison to Al Shumaisi detention centre, an immigration centre outside Jeddah”.

Ali took to online platforms in 2013 to expose government corruption in Saudi Arabia. He also published on torture in detention centers by the Sudanese authorities and expressed his support for acts of civil disobedience. For these reasons, Husam Ali Mohammad Ali was arrested by the Saudi Arabian government.

Also covered by Amnesty International in June, a number of prominent women’s rights activists including Loujain al-Hathloul, Iman al-Nafjan and Aziza al-Youssef were arrested and they remain detained without charge and have no access to their families or to their lawyers.

Negar Mortazavi, an Iranian-American journalist and commentator, summed up the impact of how Khashoggi’s death has been approached by the United States government as “not only a US-Saudi matter. It will have an impact on every country in the Middle East. This incident will affect how America’s allies and foes… are going to treat journalism and dissent in the future.”

The Saudi Arabian government’s reaction to criticism demonstrates the poor relationship many authorities maintain with the press and with anyone who attempts to criticize government actions. Jamal Khashoggi’s death was one of many journalists’ fate - it just so happened that his death was one of few that have captivated international outrage.

Even so, Khashoggi’s death has nearly disappeared from media coverage. This is unsurprising, as many crimes committed against journalists lose attention quickly or go unreported in society’s fast news cycle.

Newspaper advisor and journalism teacher, Mr. Andrew Loh said, “I find it extremely ironic that journalists wouldn’t stay right on top of the murder of other journalists! It makes the conspiracy theorist in me wonder if something larger isn’t happening here.”

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