NEW YORK—The report released today by UN Special Rapporteur Agnès Callamard on the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi—which squarely places responsibility for the murder, cover up of the crime, and obstruction of justice on the government of Saudi Arabia—makes clear that this grave violation of free expression requires a robust response from both the international community and particularly the United States Congress, PEN America said today.

Jamal Khashoggi, an exiled Saudi Arabian journalist, Washington Post contributor, and U.S. resident, was murdered by government agents inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, Turkey on October 2, 2018. After several weeks of denials, the Saudi government admitted that he was killed inside the consulate—offering first a series of improbable scenarios before finally conceding on October 25 that the murder was premeditated.  Evidence released by U.S. intelligence agencies in November pointed to the direct involvement of crown prince Mohammad Bin Salman in ordering Khashoggi’s killing. Saudi authorities charged 11 suspects in the murder (with five of them subject to the death penalty), and their trial began in January 2019 behind closed doors. Also in January, Agnès Callamard, UN Special Rapporteur for Extrajudicial, Summary, or Arbitrary Executions, announced that she would lead a team of three international experts to conduct an inquiry into the murder; the team spent a week investigating the crime in Istanbul and Callamard released preliminary observations on February 7, 2019, in which she referred to Khashoggi’s murder as “a violation of the most fundamental of all rights, the right to life.” In a press release issued on March 28, Callamard denounced the lack of transparency in the investigation and called on the Saudi government to make the trial of those accused of Khashoggi’s murder open to the public.

“Callamard’s report shines further, much needed light on the brazen attempts by the Saudi government to cover up this atrocious crime, and to thwart efforts to investigate it,” said Summer Lopez, Senior Director of Free Expression Programs at PEN America. “Saudi Arabia’s ongoing, flawed trial of alleged perpetrators ignores the clear evidence that Mohammad Bin Salman was behind the killing, and it cannot lead to true justice. We support Callamard’s call for an independent investigation into his role in the murder. On the U.S. side, it is also clear that the Trump administration is unlikely to take action against Saudi Arabia. Congress must act now. The House Foreign Affairs Committee has already stated, on a bipartisan basis, its commitment to ensuring some measure of accountability for the killing. Impunity in this case poses too great a risk to the safety of journalists everywhere. We urge principled, bi-partisan action to ensure justice for Jamal Khashoggi and make clear that the murder of a journalist will not go unpunished.”

PEN America has consistently called for justice in the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, issuing an open letter in November 2018 signed by more than 100 writers, journalists, artists, and activists, including J.K. Rowling, Bob Woodward, Meryl Streep, and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, calling on UN Secretary-General Guterres to authorize an independent, international investigation. A petition making the same call has garnered thousands of signatures. In January, PEN America President Jennifer Egan participated in a memorial at The U.S. Capitol marking 100 days after Khashoggi’s murder, and in February, PEN America’s Senior Director of Free Expression Programs Summer Lopez published “A Continued Call: Jamal Khashoggi’s Murderers Must be Held Accountable.” Also in February, PEN America signed a joint letter alongside the Committee to Protect Journalists, Human Rights First, Human Rights Watch, the Open Society Justice Initiative, and Reporters without Borders, calling on Congress and the Trump administration to take steps to increase transparency and accountability around Khashoggi’s murder. Khashoggi’s murder is part of a broader pattern of human rights violations in Saudi Arabia. In May, PEN America honored Saudi women writer-activists Nouf Abdulaziz, Loujain Al-Hathloul, and Eman Al-Nafjan with the 2019 PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award. Abdulaziz, Al-Hathloul, and Al-Nafjan have been subjected to imprisonment, solitary confinement, and torture by the Saudi Arabian government as part of its brutal crackdown on individuals who raise their voices in defense of women’s rights in the Kingdom.


PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible.

CONTACT: Suzanne Trimel, PEN America media consultant: