Jamal Khashoggi: Ominous warning about silencing media Saudi journalist gave in final column before disappearance revealed

‘Arab governments have been given free rein to continue silencing the media at an increasing rate’

Samuel Osborne
Thursday 18 October 2018 13:42 BST
Jamal Khashoggi: Everything we know

An ominous warning that Middle Eastern governments “have been given free rein to continue silencing the media” has been published by The Washington Post two weeks after the disappearance of its author, Saudi dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Mr Khashoggi’s column was published on Wednesday, a little over a fortnight since he was last seen, crossing the threshold of the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

It was released hours after a gruesome account in Turkey’s pro-government Yeni Safak newspaper alleged Saudi officials had cut off Mr Khashoggi’s fingers and then decapitated him inside the consulate while his fiancee waited outside.

The Saudi government, including its crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, has denied all involvement in the face of international outrage at his disappearance.

In an introduction to the column, the Post’s global opinions editor, Karen Attiah, said she received the essay from Mr Khashoggi’s translator and assistant the day after he was reported missing.

In the op-ed, titled “Jamal Khashoggi: What the Arab world needs most is free expression”, Mr Khashoggi recounted the imprisonment of a prominent writer who spoke against the Saudi establishment, and cited an incident in which the Egyptian government seized control of a newspaper.

“These actions no longer carry the consequence of a backlash from the international community. Instead, these actions may trigger condemnation quickly followed by silence,” he wrote.

“As a result, Arab governments have been given free rein to continue silencing the media at an increasing rate.”

Mike Pompeo arrives in Saudi Arabia to discuss Jamal Khashoggi disappearance

In the column, Mr Khashoggi, a Saudi citizen who went into self-imposed exile in the US following the rise of the crown prince, also discussed the practice of Middle Eastern governments blocking internet access to keep tight control of the information their citizens can see.

“The Arab world is facing its own version of an Iron Curtain, imposed not by external actors but through domestic forces vying for power,” he wrote.

He praised the Post for translating many of his columns into Arabic and said it was important for Middle Easterners to be able to read about democracy in the West.

He also said it was critical Arab voices had a platform from which to be heard.

“We suffer from poverty, mismanagement and poor education,” Mr Khashoggi wrote. “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.”

Mr Khashoggi started writing for the Post’s opinion section in September 2017 and his columns often criticised the prince and direction the Saudi kingdom was taking.

The Post initially held off on publishing the column in the hope Mr Khashoggi would return, Ms Attiah said.

But, she wrote: “Now I have to accept: that is not going to happen.”

She concluded her note by writing: “This column perfectly captures his commitment and passion for freedom in the Arab world. A freedom he apparently gave his life for.

“I will be forever grateful he chose The Post as his final journalistic home one year ago and gave us the chance to work together.”

Turkish crime scene investigators searched the home of the Saudi consul general in Istanbul on Wednesday, after forensics teams spent hours in the consulate earlier this week.

Surveillance video had shown diplomatic cars moving between the consulate and the residence nearly two hours after Mr Khashoggi’s arrival.

Donald Trump says Jamal Khashoggi could have been work of 'rogue killers'

Donald Trump, who initially warned of “severe punishment” if the kingdom was found to be behind the disappearance, said on Wednesday the US wanted Turkey to turn over any audio or video recording it had of Mr Khashoggi’s alleged murder “if it exists”.

He recently suggested the global community had jumped to conclusions that Saudi Arabia was behind Mr Khashoggi’s disappearance, comparing them to the accusations of sexual assault made during the confirmation of his pick for Supreme Court justice, Brett Kavanaugh.

Amid the growing international backlash following Mr Khashoggi’s disappearance, several prominent business and technology leaders have pulled out of an investment conference in Riyadh dubbed “Davos in the Desert”.

On Wednesday, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, Christine Lagarde, joined the heads of Google, HSBC, Uber and JPMorgan in saying they will not attend the Future Investment Initiative (FII) summit.

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