On October 2nd 2018, Saudi Arabian journalist and active dissident Jamal Khashoggi entered the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul, and he never walked out. He was later rumored to have been murdered and dismembered by Saudi Arabian officials inside the consulate, likely in an effort to silence him and his work.
Khashoggi was a strong proponent of gender equality, freedom of expression, and restriction of the traditional, ultraconservative Wahhabi policies. He was also highly critical of the Saudi crown prince, Mohammad bin Salman, as well as Saudi conflicts with Yemen, Qatar, and Lebanon. Due to the backlash against many of his pieces, Khashoggi fled Saudi Arabia and later relocated to the United States. He began writing for the Washington Post, but he returned to the consulate in Turkey in order to obtain documentation for his upcoming nuptials.
Khashoggi was reported missing by his fiance, and no CCTV feeds recorded his exit from the consulate, prompting an investigation into his death. At the start, the Saudi government staunchly maintained that he had left the consulate alive, but this was met with heavy skepticism from foreign nations. The government later recanted their statement, saying that he was killed in a fight in the consulate by rogue attendants that he was supposed to be meeting. This too was questioned by other nations, and an investigation by the CIA in November revealed that it was, in fact, premeditated murder. There is evidence of repeated contact between Salman and a key aide that neatly coincided with the attack on Khashoggi.
The investigation found the crown prince to be responsible for planning and ordering the attack on Khashoggi. This revelation sparked international condemnation, but Saudi Arabia’s allies, Egypt and Kuwait, came out in support of the prince’s actions. Even the President of the United States, Donald Trump, gave mixed reviews of the situation. Though previously stating he believed that Saudis were lying about the circumstances of Khashoggi’s death, he defended Saudi Arabia as an “incredible ally” and said the results of the CIA’s investigation were inconclusive. This brought on heavy criticism due to his business deals with the country and their rich oil reserves, bringing on accusations of conflicts of interest.
Khashoggi may have been the most recent and most heavily publicized journalist who has died, but he was far from the first. Numerous journalists have died this year because of their work, often coinciding with outspoken criticism of their government. Many of these killings have been orchestrated by authoritarian governments, but some were directed by outraged citizens. Journalists put themselves at risk by speaking on what they believe in, and it can cost them their lives. Even the United States is not exempt from the slaughtering of journalists. Out of the 180 countries recorded, the United States is 45th in terms of the World Journalistic Freedom Index. This year, 63 journalists have been killed worldwide in connection with their work and many more imprisoned. With 6 journalists killed, the United States is tied with India for third, following Afghanistan (14) and Mexico (7). Even in a so-called, free and democratic nation, people are killed in pursuit of the truth.
Especially in such a politically divided world, the media is not always held in the highest regard, often contributing to partisan divide and fear-mongering, but the root of journalism is pure. Our right to a free press is what keeps discourse alive. Without coverage of world events, we would be left in the dark. Being a journalist means pursuing the truth and disseminating it to the people. Journalistic integrity is supremely important in protecting our democracy because whoever controls the media influences the people. Though the role of journalists may become warped at times, easily evident in our divided society, one must reflect upon the importance of the free press.
Freedom of information and expression preserves out personal autonomy and is necessary for a democracy. However, it is not only a democratic right but a human one. People deserve the truth, and governmental actions should not remain unchecked and unquestioned. The slaughter of journalists around the world is an affront to human rights, and we must do something about it. There must be an open dialogue confronting the issue; no change can be made if we remain silent. Additionally, working through human rights organizations such as Amnesty International raises awareness and accountability for these nations and their treatment of journalists. This is not a problem solvable by a single action but rather a series of concentrated efforts. To stop the butchering of journalists, both here and abroad, is a feat best accomplished together in pursuit of the preservation of basic human rights.