Khashoggi laments ‘dearth of free press’ in final column

Missing Saudi Arabian journalist speaks out about Arab world in Washington Post

CCTV footage obtained by TRT World shows Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi walking into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2, 2018 before he disappeared. Video: TRT World


The dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi disappeared after he walked into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul just over two weeks ago, and evidence increasingly suggests he was brutally killed.

But on Wednesday night, a new piece of his work – submitted by his assistant after he disappeared – was published by The Washington Post, for which Mr Khashoggi worked as a columnist.

In just over 700 words, his column lamented the dearth of a free press in the Arab world, which he said “is facing its own version of an Iron Curtain, imposed not by external actors, but through domestic forces vying for power.”

He sought to promote the free exchange of ideas and information under the headline, “What the Arab world needs most is free expression.”

Mr Khashoggi’s editor, Karen Attiah, wrote a preface to the column. She said she received the file from Khashoggi’s translator and assistant a day after he was reported to be missing.

“The Post held off publishing it because we hoped Jamal would come back to us so that he and I could edit it together,” Attiah wrote.

“Now I have to accept: That is not going to happen. This is the last piece of his I will edit for The Post.”

Audio recordings

The column came amid reports of audio recordings suggesting that Khashoggi was met by his killers shortly after he walked into the consulate in Turkey on October 2nd, and that his fingers were severed and he was beheaded.

Saudi officials have denied harming Mr Khashoggi, but they have not provided evidence that he left the Saudi consulate, or offered a credible account of what happened to him.

US president Donald Trump appeared to take Saudi officials’ claims at face value, disregarding Turkish assertions that senior figures in the royal court had ordered his killing.

The president told reporters Wednesday that the United States had asked for copies of any audio or video evidence of Mr Khashoggi’s killing that Turkish authorities may possess – “if it exists.”

In his column Wednesday, Mr Khashoggi wrote that government clampdowns on the press in the Arab world were sometimes met with little resistance.

“These actions no longer carry the consequence of a backlash from the international community,” he said.

“Instead, these actions may trigger condemnation quickly followed by silence.”

In Saudi Arabia, Mr Khashoggi once served as an adviser to and unofficial spokesman for the royal family. But after Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman barred him from writing in the kingdom, he traveled to the United States.

He reinvented himself as a prominent critic of the Saudi government – and of the crown prince in particular – and became a resident of Virginia.

On October 2nd, he entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to pick up a document he needed to get married. His fiancé was waiting outside. But Khashoggi never came out.

Turkish forensic police officers work with search and rescue dog inside of the residence of the Saudi consul Mohammed al-Otaibi for investigation in Istanbul. Photograph: Seday Suna/EPA
Turkish forensic police officers work with search and rescue dog inside of the residence of the Saudi consul Mohammed al-Otaibi for investigation in Istanbul. Photograph: Seday Suna/EPA

Human rights abuses

His column Wednesday was reminiscent of ones he had written before, which often condemned human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia. He wrote that he had been reading a Freedom House report on political rights and civil liberties around the world, and it ranked most countries in the Arab world as “not free.”

“As a result, Arabs living in these countries are either uninformed or misinformed,” Mr Khashoggi wrote.

“They are unable to adequately address, much less publicly discuss, matters that affect the region and their day-to-day lives.”

He wrote about the hopes that had been shattered across the Middle East after Arab Spring uprisings in 2011 failed in several countries. And he wrote about governments’ efforts to imprison dissidents, block internet communication and censor the media.

He suggested the formation of a transnational media outlet – like Radio Free Europe, which was created by the United States government during the Cold War – that could be a platform for Arab writers, reporters and thinkers.

“We need to provide a platform for Arab voices,” Mr Khashoggi wrote.

“We suffer from poverty, mismanagement and poor education. Through the creation of an independent international forum, isolated from the influence of nationalist governments spreading hate through propaganda, ordinary people in the Arab world would be able to address the structural problems their societies face.”

In her note, Ms Attiah wrote that Mr Khashoggi’s column “perfectly captures his commitment and passion for freedom in the Arab world. A freedom he apparently gave his life for.” – New York Times