Jamal Khashoggi: a life dedicated to freedom of expression

The Saudi journalist has been missing since the beginning of October. Source: POMED (via Flickr)

By Silvia Martelli

The case of Jamal Khashoggi, the Saudi journalist disappeared in early October, has been under the international spotlight for the past couple of weeks. On October 2, he walked into the country’s consulate in Istanbul to pick up some divorce documents, and has not been seen since. Turkish investigators have now claimed the existence of videos and audio that prove Khashoggi was murdered, and that his body was consequently brutally dismembered. “You can hear his voice and the voices of men speaking Arabic,” a source told the Washington Post. “You can hear how he was interrogated, tortured and then murdered.”

Khashoggi was a prominent journalist who had covered critical stories for Saudi news outlets, such as the rise of Osama Bin Laden and the Soviet invasion in Afghanistan. He also served as an adviser to top Saudi officials, before falling out of favour with the government and going into self-imposed exile in the US last year. That is when his first column appeared in the Washington Post, the first of many pieces that fiercely criticised Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

A year ago, in his first column for the newspaper, Khashoggi expressed his fears of being arrested in a crackdown on dissent overseen by the Prince. “The people being arrested are not even being dissidents, they just have an independent mind,” he claimed. His concerns only deepened throughout the past year: his last ever editorial (published on October 18 after all hopes of Khashoggi coming back vanished) discussed the lack of free expression in the Arab world, a cause that consistently animated his career. The absence of that freedom, he wrote, means that Arabs “are either uninformed or misinformed” and therefore “unable to adequately address matters that affect the region and their day-to-day lives.” He had made it his mission to fill that gap – a mission that had required leaving Saudi Arabia and moving to Washington, D.C. in order to speak freely. There, he was planning to create a space for other Arab dissidents to advocate for democratic reforms – something he defined in his last piece as “an independent international forum, isolated from the influence of nationalist governments spreading hate through propaganda.”

In his columns, Khashoggi insisted on a very precise message: his native country desperately needed to take steps towards liberalisation, something dramatically prevented by a climate of fear and repression. “Replacing old tactics of intolerance with new ways of repression is not the answer,” he wrote back in April. His hope was that his commentaries could influence the Crown Prince for the better.

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