Jamal Khashoggi

Jamal Khashoggi, a well-established Saudi Arabian journalist who had been living in the United States since mid-2017, went missing on October 2, 2018. He was last seen entering the Saudi Arabian Consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, in order to handle marriage paperwork. 

It is now clear that Khashoggi’s murder was pre-planned and meticulously organized, and evidence has implicated the Saudi Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman, in approving and overseeing his killing. On October 25, Saudi Arabia’s public prosecutor acknowledged Khashoggi’s death had been premeditated and on November 15, announced that 5 out of the 11 people accused by Saudi authorities were facing a possible death sentence for carrying out the grisly killing. Their trial in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, began on January 3 amid concern regarding the potential fairness of the legal process. PEN America, along with numerous other actors, continues to call for accountability for the murder that reaches the highest levels of the Saudi government.

CASE BACKGROUND

Khashoggi began his journalism career as a correspondent for the Saudi Gazette newspaper. As a journalist, he was known for his coverage of Afghanistan, Algeria, Kuwait, and the Middle East, particularly for the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and his multiple interviews with Osama Bin Laden before he became the leader of al-Qaeda.

In addition to his career as a journalist, he was a political commentator, appearing on Saudi and Arab channels. He also worked as media advisor to Prince Turki bin Faisal, former head of Saudi Arabia’s General Intelligence Directorate, who once served as the Saudi ambassador to the United States.

Once close to the inner circles of the Saudi royal family, he has been subject to a rigorous silencing regime by the Saudi authorities in recent years. He was dismissed from his position as editor-in-chief of a progressive paper, Al-Watan, in 2003 and again in 2010. Later he was appointed as the general manager of the Al Arab news channel, but it was shut down shortly after its launch in February 2015. He was banned from media appearances after his critical remarks on President Trump’s Middle East policies at a conference held at the Washington Institute in November 2016. His column in one of the most widely read Arabic dailies, Al-Hayat, was canceled and his Twitter account banned.

Concerned about his safety in Saudi Arabia, he went into self-imposed exile and moved to the United States. In September 2017, he began to write for the Washington Post as a columnist, where he continued to do so until his disappearance. In his first article, he expressed fears of being arrested and concerns over the safety of his friends in Saudi Arabia. He wrote, “I have left my home, my family, and my job, and I am raising my voice.” He continued to criticize the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s actions in connection with the recent crackdown in Saudi Arabia where many high profile arrests had taken place.

He was also outspoken about the declining status of free expression in Saudi Arabia and the Arab world. His latest article was published on October 17, which was sent to the Washington Post by Khashoggi’s assistant a day after his disappearance. Calling for free expression in the Arab world, the article reflects on the failed promises of Arab Spring and state-run narratives that command the members of Arab society.

On November 2, PEN America published an open letter to the United Nations signed by more than 110 prominent writers, journalists, and PEN Members, demanding an impartial international investigation into his murder. The letter was opened up for public signature on January 10 and you can add your name here.

CASE UPDATES

January 10, 2019: The 100th day since Khashoggi’s murder is marked by a bi-partisan memorial held at Capitol Hill and attended by Members of Congress, journalists and writers, and activists.

January 3, 2019: The trial of 11 individuals over the murder of Jamal Khashoggi begins in the Saudi capital, Riyadh. The Saudi prosecutor is asking for the death penalty for 5 of 11 suspects charged with the murder. The potential fairness of the trial has been criticized by both the US and the UN. The justice system in Saudi Arabia is governed by Sharia (Islamic Law) and the absence of a standard criminal code will likely curtail a fair trial process. 

December 13, 2018: Members of the United States Senate unanimously vote for a resolution officially blaming Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for Khashoggi’s death. The resolution is passed right after the Senate passed another resolution to end military assistance for Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen. Although the resolution is largely symbolic, it is valuable as it puts the light on President Trump, who had expressed that he stood together with the Saudi ruling family despite Khashoggi’s murder in November. The resolution was denounced by the Saudi government. 

December 12, 2018: Time Magazine names Jamal Khashoggi and other persecuted journalists such as Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo ‘person of the year.’

November 20, 2018: President Trump publishes a statement in which he declares that he won’t hold Saudi rulers accountable for the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, citing the need to prioritize arms sales and purported security alliances. 

November 16, 2018: The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) concludes that the Saudi Crown Prince ordered Khashoggi killed. Funeral services are held around the globe for Khashoggi, who is mourned in absentia.

November 15, 2018: The United States government places economic sanctions on 17 Saudis allegedly involved in the killing, including top aide of Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman, Saud al-Qahtani. The sanctions are to be implemented under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, which targets the perpetrators of serious human rights abuses and corruption. A separate group of  US senators introduces legislation that would suspend weapon sales to Saudi Arabia and prohibit US refueling of Saudi coalition aircraft conducting air raids in Yemen. On the same day, the Saudi Arabian government says that five out of the 11 suspects it has identified are facing a possible death sentence. 

November 10, 2018: Turkey shares recordings of Khashoggi’s killing with the United States, Germany, France, and Britain. The recording shows that a 15-member assassination squad was involved in the journalist’s killing.

November 4, 2018: In an interview with the CNN, two of Khashoggi’s sons, Salah and Abdullah Khashoggi, appeal to Turkish and Saudi authorities for the return of their father’s body.

November 2, 2018: Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says the order to murder the journalist came from “the highest levels” of Saudi Arabia’s government. A Turkish official claims that Khashoggi’s body was dissolved in acid.

October 25, 2018: Saudi Arabia’s public prosecutor says that Khashoggi’s killing “appeared to have been premeditated.” This is a shift from the previous explanation that the journalist had been killed in a ‘fist fight’.

October 20, 2018: After two weeks of denials, the Saudi government acknowledges that Khashoggi was killed in the consulate, claiming that he was killed in a fistfight—a claim that draws immediate disbelief.  

October 18, 2018: A number of senior officials withdraw from a major economic forum to be held in Riyadh on October 23 in response to Khashoggi’s disappearance. France, Germany, the U.K., and the Netherlands suspend political visits to Saudi Arabia, demanding clarifications on the disappearance of Khashoggi.

The United States asks Turkey for an audio recording of Jamal Khashoggi’s death, which could provide evidence that he was tortured before he was killed inside the Saudi consulate.

October 15, 2018: A Turkish forensics team searches the Saudi consulate.

October 11, 2018: President Trump says the United States is assisting Turkey with the investigation of Khashoggi’s disappearance.

October 10, 2018: More than 20 U.S. Senators sign a bipartisan letter directed at President Trump, triggering the terms of the Global Magnitsky Act, which demands an investigation on whether foreign persons are responsible for an extrajudicial killing. This could result in the imposition of sanctions against Saudi Arabia.

Leaked surveillance footage shows both Khashoggi and the purported team that killed him.

October 6, 2018: The Consul General of Saudi Arabia in Istanbul gives a tour of the Saudi consulate building to Reuters news agency to show that Khashoggi is not on the premises. 

Meanwhile, Turkish sources claim that Khashoggi was killed inside the building.

October 5, 2018: Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman says in an interview with Bloomberg News in Riyadh that he believes the journalist left the Saudi consulate in Istanbul alive, but the Kingdom does not support these claims with evidence. He says Turkish authorities can search inside the consulate.

October 4, 2018: Turkey summons the Saudi ambassador in Ankara to the foreign ministry. Saudi officials announce on Twitter that they are closely following Khashoggi’s case and working with Turkish authorities on his investigation. 

October 3, 2018: The Saudi government issues a statement confirming Khashoggi is missing but says that he disappeared after he left the building. Turkish authorities claim that he never left. No video evidence is released confirming that he left the building alive.

October 2, 2018: Khashoggi enters the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in order to collect paperwork confirming his divorce from his former Saudi wife, in order to marry Hatice Cengiz, his fiancé. Cengiz was waiting outside for him but when he did not come out for several hours, she contacted the Turkish police concerning his safety.

Evidence later emerges that 15 Saudis, including a forensics experts and security and intelligence officials, arrive in Istanbul on both commercial and private flights.

September 28, 2018: Khashoggi makes a first trip to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, in order to inquire about obtaining documents needed for his planned second marriage. He is told to come back the following week to collect them.

September 2017: After several months in self-imposed exile, Jamal Khashoggi starts writing columns for the Washington Post.

IN THEIR WORDS

His columns in the Washington Post can be found here.

His off-air conversation with BBC Newshour program released after three days of his disappearance. 

FREE EXPRESSION IN SAUDI ARABIA

Saudi Arabia, an absolute monarchy, has long failed to create an enabling environment for free expression for its people. The expansive media coverage of and strong international concern over Khashoggi’s disappearance and demand for urgent explanation for it brought up a strong debate on Saudi Arabia’s human rights record. The recent crackdown in Saudi Arabia, where many, including more than 15 journalists and human rights activists, were arrested creates a climate of fear, instead of a new reform era, as promised by Prince Salman two years ago. Khashoggi was one of the journalists who fled from the crackdown.

RELATED LINKS

PEN America immediately released a statement on October 6 condemning the reported assassination of Khashoggi. Our response was quoted prominently in the Associated Press and Washington Post, among other outlets.

Read PEN America’s statements on Jamal Khashoggi here:

On November 2, PEN America published an open letter to the United Nations signed by more than 110 prominent writers, journalists, and PEN Members, demanding an impartial international investigation into his murder.

PEN America staff have also spoken out expressing our concern to the Daily BeastPoliticoAl Jazeera, and others, as well as taking part in and speaking at a vigil in front of the Washington Post office in Washington, D.C.:

Watch PEN America Washington Director Thomas Melia’s interview with al-Araby TV here. The clip has been translated below.

Translation:

Host: “Reports regarding U.S. agency awareness of Khashoggi’s targeting have raised the intensity of questions here about an affair involving a well-known journalist who writes for one of the biggest American newspapers and who resided in the United States.”

Thomas Melia: “If the reports are accurate, then the U.S. agencies had an obligation to inform Jamal Khashoggi of the danger and should have advised him against going to that consulate or to Turkey, if Saudi Arabia, which is supposedly our ally, was developing a plan to kidnap an individual living in America.”

We have also engaged on the case with both houses of Congress, and are pleased that, in a major positive step, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee used the Global Magnitsky Acton October 10 to formally require the administration to make a determination within 120 days of whether an extrajudicial killing or other form of gross human rights violation has been committed against Khashoggi; if so, this would automatically trigger sanctions. We will be continuing to follow the case closely and to advocate for the Saudi regime to provide clarity about Khashoggi’s whereabouts at the earliest possible time.