The events following the murder of Saudi government critic Jamal Khashoggi have certainly proved intriguing in terms of the ambiguous responses from the international community, not only from the Saudi government but also from key allies such as the U.S. Earlier this week, Turkish officials confirmed that shortly after he entered the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on October 2, the journalist was strangled, and his body dismembered and disposed of, with video footage and other evidence identifying 15 Saudi nationals as the perpetrators.
Much of the world has responded with abhorrence, and Turkey has naturally taken a leading investigative role. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan recently stated that the plot to murder the journalist was orchestrated within “the highest levels of the Saudi government.” Additionally, The Independent reported clashes between Saudi and Turkish prosecutors over ongoing inquiries, citing Saudi Attorney General Saud al-Mujib’s declined request for all related materials gathered by Turkish officials. Concurrently, Turkish extradition requests for the 15 Saudi agents identified as being involved in the plot have also been denied by the Saudi government.
On the other side of the Atlantic, Washington has remained relatively quiet on the matter and has failed to take up any strong position against Saudi Arabia for its actions. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo noted that for the individuals allegedly linked to the plot, it was reviewing the “applicability of global Magnitsky sanctions to those individuals.” However, due to President Trump’s notion to remit all associated reactions against the Saudi regime to the congress, any U.S. response extending beyond the verbal realm may be delayed for at least a month according to Bloomberg correspondent Derek Wallbank. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia continues to alter its account of events and has refrained from taking any overall responsibility, labelling the current account as a “rogue operation.” On October 25, the Saudi top public prosecutor was quoted saying that the murder was “premeditated,” and Prince Mohammed, according to the BBC, allegedly told US officials in a phone call that he considered Khashoggi a dangerous Islamist.
The recent events surrounding the assassination are evident of continued efforts by Prince Mohammed bin Salman and the wider Saudi government to quell dissidents and convict them based on vocal criticisms to the regime. Human Rights Watch notes that at current there are dozens of human rights activists and regime critics that are incarcerated and serving long sentences.
The continued persecution of such people trying to surface insights about the Saudi regime is empowered through the government’s strict self-censorship system. In 1992 the “Basic Law of Governance” was enacted informally as a constitution and stated that mass media was “prohibited to commit acts leading to disorder and division…” The opaque precedence this sets allows the Prince and his government minimal justification for responding to headlines and stories that portray the Saudi regime and its Islamist doctrines in a negative light.
This was seen earlier this year in April when Khashoggi wrote a column urging for the state to return to a pre-1979 climate where hard-line Wahhabi traditions and policies were less prevalent. In retaliation for this, and criticisms of Donald Trump during the 2016 U.S. election campaign, the journalist was banned by the Saudi government from publishing or appearing on TV. It is also reported by the New York Times that around this period, Mr. Khashoggi was the subject of a cyberbullying campaign initiated by online twitter trolls.
The bar that has been set by this murder is certainly worrying for all that are considered critics of Saudi Arabia and its government. The harsh censorship and treatment of people who dare cross that line is deplorable and should be brought to account on the international stage, as well as the promotion for more freedom of expression rights.