Jamal Khashoggi is only the latest journalist to lose life or freedom as a result of Saudi Arabia’s actions.
Since January 2017, more than 15 Saudi journalists have been killed or imprisoned by authorities in Saudi Arabia. Their crime: reporting in detail a severe crackdown against advocates of a free press and democratic reforms in the desert kingdom. Frontline on-scene coverage of neighboring Yemen’s seemingly endless civil war has been responsible for even more casualties: 27 journalists have died there since Saudi Arabia began intervening militarily in late 2015.
The Fate of Jamal Khashoggi
Jamal Khashoggi, a well known Saudi Arabian journalist and Washington Post columnist, has been missing and unaccounted for since October 2. On that date, he went to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to pick up a marriage certificate for himself and his fiancée, a Turkish citizen. Several years ago, Mr. Khashoggi had left his home country for the U.S. because he felt endangered because of his advocacy of press freedom and other democratic reforms in the kingdom. He decided during a visit from America to his fiancée in Turkey in September to apply for that marriage license.
Both Turkish and U.S. officials have requested Riyadh to explain why 15 Saudi operatives flew into Turkey shortly before Mr. Khashoggi returned to the consulate to pick up the document. The Saudi team left Istanbul to return to Riyadh soon after Khashoggi was said by consular officials to have left their building. Consulate officials insisted that the journalist departed the premises unharmed.
However, Turkish officials told the Washington Post Friday they have audio of Mr. Khashoggi’s brutal murder inside the consulate. As one Turkish official put it: “You can hear his voice and the voices of men speaking Arabic. You can hear how he was interrogated, tortured, then murdered.” A second Turkish official added that men could be heard “beating Khashoggi.”
The Turkish and U.S. governments both have sought a detailed Saudi explanation of what actually happened. In Washington, there is bipartisan support in Congress and among business executives for a thorough accounting of events inside the consulate. Some U.S. business leaders and Western journalists have cancelled attendance at a planned Saudi-sponsored three-day conference on tourism projects on the Red Sea October 23.
And in Yemen
Twenty-seven journalists covering the interminable Yemen civil war also have been killed as they sought to enlighten their readers and audiences from on-site battle scenes in that Arabian peninsula country. Among them: Almigdad Mojalli, a master photojournalist who reported from the frontlines and was killed in a Saudi-led bombing raid near Sana’a two years ago. He was filming the aftermath of the airstrike for VOA and left behind a wife, young son and five others in his family.
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia has given no evidence of a halt to the kingdom’s so-far fruitless effort to win the war against Iranian-backed Houthis in that civil war. Now, the almost certain killing of Jamal Kashoggi by Saudi henchmen has focused the world’s attention on the kingdom’s carnage against free, objective and truthful reporting.
John Lansing, chief executive of all five U.S. publicly-funded overseas networks — VOA, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Radio Free Asia, the Middle East Broadcasting Network in Arabic and Radio/TV in Spanish to Cuba — said: “We call on all governments to do more to support core values and to react strongly and appropriately to this grave matter involving Mr. Kashoggi and two U.S. allies, Saudi Arabia and Turkey.”
Voice of America Director Amanda Bennett added: “We must do everything in our power to stem the rising tides of threats to journalists around the world. Our mission depends on it.”
In the realm of “what ifs?”
- What if the Saudi government recognized the value of full disclosure of what happened at its Istanbul consulate?
- What if it understood the life-saving potential of a settlement of the Yemen conflict and announced its support for a ceasefire and serious negotiations to end that war?
- What if the U.S. exerted its influence and diplomatic heft on Riyadh and the Iranian-backed Houthis to halt the so-far fruitless stalemate in Yemen?
David Miliband, a distinguished British diplomat who now heads the International Rescue Committee, recently visited Yemen for a firsthand look. As he recently told Foreign Policy magazine:
“Everything we know about the U. S. stance is that it does make a difference because the actors in the drama do look to the U.S. for actions or restraints. The great danger is that a lack of focus on the Yemeni conflict becomes a terrible stain on the U.S. reputation.”
As a 36-year veteran of the Voice of America (VOA), Alan Heil traveled to more than 40 countries a foreign correspondent in the Middle East, and later as director of News and Current Affairs, deputy director of programs, and deputy director of the nation’s largest publicly-funded overseas multimedia network. Today, VOA reaches more than 275 million people around the world each week via radio, television and online media. Read More