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Press Freedom

Don’t “Whitewash” Khashoggi’s Murder

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 44 journalists have been killed so far in 2018 alone, 27 of whom were murdered. Courtesy: UN Geneva

UNITED NATIONS, Oct 19 2018 (IPS) - In the midst of international outrage over the alleged murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, human rights groups have called for a United Nations investigation into the incident.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and Reporters Without Borders joined efforts to appeal for an independent investigation into the alleged torture and murder of Khashoggi to avoid a “whitewash.”

“This sends an incredibly chilling signal to journalists around the world that their lives don’t matter and that states can have you murdered with impunity,” said CPJ’s Deputy Executive Director Robert Mahoney at a press conference at the U.N.

“We believe that the only way to ensure that there is no whitewash in the disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi is that the United Nations take on an independent, transparent and international investigation,” he added.

Human Rights Watch’s U.N. Director Louis Charbonneau echoed similar sentiments, stating: “We need accountability and in order to have accountability, we need credible information and an investigation.”

Originally hailing from Saudi Arabia, Khashoggi was a permanent resident in the United States and worked as a columnist for the Washington Post.

He was last seen visiting a Saudi consulate in Turkey and leaks from Turkish sources have painted a gruesome picture of the incident including the dismemberment of his body.

Audio and visual recordings have also suggested that Saudi officials close to the crown prince Mohammed bin Salman are the perpetrators.

Sadly, this is not an isolated incident as journalists continue to be killed around the world for their work.

According to CPJ, 44 journalists have been killed so far in 2018 alone, 27 of whom were murdered.

“This incident didn’t happen in a vacuum. Jamal Khashoggi is not one case that is an anomaly. It happened in a context of an increased crackdown on dissent since June 2017 when the crown prince Mohammed Bin Salman took his position,” said Sherine Tadros, Amnesty International’s head of the New York U.N. office, pointing to Saudi Arabia’s human rights record.

Since the crown prince took power, the detention of dissidents has increased including human rights defenders such as Samar Badawi, a prominent women’s rights advocate.

The Middle Eastern country is also ranked at third in CPJ’s Most Censored Countries list, just behind North Korea and Eritrea.

Khashoggi’s last column for the Washington Post was aptly on the need for freedom of expression in the Arab world where he stated: “The Arab world needs a modern version of the old transnational media so citizens can be informed about global events…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.”

Mahoney highlighted the need to act against the threats that journalists face.

“We have to fight back on this because if we don’t, that space will continue to be shrink. Countries like Saudi Arabia, which has wealth and influence, will continue to suppress journalism,” he said.

The four human rights groups called on Turkey to ask U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to establish an independent investigation.

Though both Saudi Arabia and Turkey are conducting their own investigations, many fear the findings will not be credible.

“This is what the U.N. was created for, this is why we need it. We need credibility,” said Charbonneau.

“If in fact it’s true, that the most senior members of the Saudi government were behind the execution and dismemberment of Mr. Khashoggi, then we don’t want the culprits investigating themselves. This is now how we run criminal investigations,” he added.

Despite Turkey’s similarly poor record on protecting journalists, the human rights groups said that it is President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s time to step up.

“We want the Turkish Government…to step forward, to use this as an opportunity to move forward into the future and out of the past…to send a message to the world that we want reporting, we want credible information and we will protect journalists,” Charbonneau said.

It wouldn’t be the first time at the U.N. was requested to conduct an investigation.

In 2009, Pakistan requested then Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to probe into the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. The inquiry found a whitewash of the incident by the country’s authorities.

U.N. officials such as new U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet have also called for an impartial, transparent investigation into Khashoggi’s disappearance and death.

“His family and the world deserves to know the truth,” she said.

The organisations urged for quick action, and for other governments to press Turkey and Saudi Arabia.

“It is gathering momentum and we hope that the momentum will be such that Turkey will not be able to say no and will actually have to step forward and do this and the Saudis would be under so much pressure that they will have to cooperate,” Charbonneau said.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited the two countries and their heads of state on the case and has since pushed to give Saudi Arabia some more time to finalise their investigation before acting.

Before the trip, U.S. president Donald Trump initially lambasted journalists for treating Saudi Arabia as guilty before being proven innocent.

“If we are looking for proving Saudi Arabia’s innocence, we believe that there is no other way—our best shot for a credible investigation, a transparent investigation, and an investigation that wont be politicised is for the U.N. to conduct it and is for Turkey to make this request,” Tadros said.

She additionally appealed to the U.N. Secretary-General to step up and act boldly.

“We cannot live in a world where governments can use chemical weapons against their own citizens and nothing happens. Where a military can ethnically cleanse, torture, and rape an entire community and no one is held into account. Where a journalist in a major city walks into a consulate and is tortured and killed and nothing happens,” Tadros said.

“Every time the U.N. system and particularly the U.N. Secretary-General fails to speak up, he enables another tragedy, another person who is killed, another population that is ethnically cleansed every single time,” she added.

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