After weeks of questions and investigation, the remains of Saudi-Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi were found in the garden of a Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 23. After entering a Saudi embassy in Turkey on Oct. 2, the journalist never returned, prompting an ongoing string of contrasting information from Saudi officials about the whereabouts of the journalist, and how they claim he was killed. Upon finding what remains of his body, the gaps in the story have finally begun to close.
Khashoggi has been an active critic of the Saudi Arabian government in the years he spent in self-imposed exile, living in the United States after spending much of his life as a political adviser to the Saudi royal family. He spent years covering the rise of Osama Bin Laden, and feared for his own life in Saudi Arabia after the country’s harsh crack-down on political dissenters. In the states, he worked for the Washington Post, criticizing the Saudi government and the censorship of press in the Middle Eastern world.
Below is an excerpt from one of his final columns, published after his disappearance.
“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.”
On Oct. 20, a Saudi official announced that Khashoggi had died when a fight broke out inside the embassy building. The official claimed that his body was wrapped inside of a rug and given to a cooperator to be removed from the premises. His murder was described as a “tremendous mistake”, and officials denied that the crown prince of Saudi Arabia was responsible for the killing. Saudi officials described the attack as a “rogue killing.”
The president of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said otherwise. His account states that Khashoggi’s killing was planned “days in advance,” according to the BBC News. Anonymous Turkish officials report that Khashoggi was tortured and killed in the embassy building before he was beheaded and removed from the embassy. While Turkish officials claim to have evidence on tape and video, these have yet to be released to the public.
An alleged tape of Khashoggi’s torture and murder is currently in the possession of CIA Director Gina Haspel, according to The Washington Post. However, Turkish officials have not made a statement on this as of late.
Recent footage shows a body double of Khashoggi leaving the embassy, allegedly of a Saudi special agent who participated in Khashoggi’s killing.
Saudi Arabian Prince Mohammad bin Salman has called Khashoggi’s death a “heinous crime.” However, as more information unveils, Turkish officials are gathering more evidence that the Saudi Arabia Royal Court may have been responsible for the killing of Khashoggi . Saudi Arabia’s purge to eliminate public critics of the government in 2017 was one of the many reasons Khashoggi chose to exile himself in the first place. Turkish officials have recently found evidence through an anonymous Saudi intelligence aid of a Skype call in which Saud al-Qahtani, a top aid to Mohammad, ordered the death of Khashoggi after a heated exchange over a Skype call to the Istanbul consulate. Turkish officials claim that President Erdogan has a recording of this Skype call, but refuses to hand it over to the United States.
“Bring me the head of the dog,” Qahtani stated in a report given by an Arabian official with ties to the Crown. A Saudi hit-man team consisting of 15 men was found by Turkish officials to be involved in Khashoggi’s death in the weeks following. Since then, five Saudi officials have been fired, including Qahtani, and 18 Saudis have been arrested. Anonymous Turkish officials claim that Mohammad may be protecting Qahtani by removing him from his position.
Donald Trump described the attack as, “the worst cover-up in history,” believing that the Saudi prince was responsible for Khashoggi’s death. He has since annulled the visas of 21 Saudi Arabians. Despite this, Trump has ruled out halting the United States arms sale to Saudi Arabia, and stated that he believes the Prince’s claims Khashoggi’s death being that of a “rogue fight” were credible, contradicting himself in his statements.
Saudi Arabia has been described as having one of the most censored news medias in the world, according to sources such as the Guardian, as well as “relentless in the censorship of the Saudi media and the Internet” according to a 2014 report from “Reporters Without Borders.” In 1977, “the King Abdulaziz City for Science & Technology” was established, and currently serves as an internet proxy farm directing international internet technology. It focuses primarily on blocking sites deemed “immoral” (consisting of primarily pornographic sites or any web traffic supportive of LGBT rights) and those that promote Shia ideology. Public demonstrations against the royal family can be met with prison time, and any and all press information may not criticize the Royal Crown.
A wave of arrests that began in September 2017 in Saudi Arabia detained 15 different journalists, according to “Reporters Without Borders.” Since June of 2016, journalists have been asked to resign from their work, imprisoned and reported missing. Reporters Without Borders ranks the country 169th out of 180 in its World Freedom Press index, which is dependent upon the country’s censorship of its news media.
According to Saudi Arabia’s index, “Saudi Arabia permits no independent media and tolerates no independent political parties, unions or human rights groups.”
Khashoggi’s death is, unfortunately, one of many tragic and gruesome murders of journalists over the years. In 2018 alone, 45 journalists were murdered across countries such as Syria, the United States, Afghanistan, Mexico and Israel, according to “The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).” Since 1992, 1,324 journalists have been killed worldwide with their work as a reporter being confirmed as a motive for the killing.
For more information on Khashoggi’s death, view the timeline of the reports and claims by the Saudi Crown at https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/jamal-khashoggi-latest-timeline-saudi-arabia-death-missing-search-turkey-istanbul-a8584686.html. For more information on journalist rights and protections worldwide, visit the Committee For Protecting Journalists at https://cpj.org/.
Sam Walsh is a third-year student majoring in special education and English with a minor in Autism studies. SW850037@wcupa.edu