While there are many questions still remaining over what transpired on Oct. 2 when Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi went missing, one thing’s certain: the sudden disappearance of one of Riyadh’s harshest critics is a blow to the backbone of democracy and freedom of the press around the world.
The last known public sighting of Khashoggi — who contributed frequently to the Washington Post in addition to his media career in the middle east — was at a Saudi embassy in Istanbul where his fiancee waited for him outside as he entered to acquire marriage documents.
A group of Saudi officials maintained that Khashoggi left the consulate, but the journalist never reappeared. His disappearance led Turkish president Tayyip Erdogan to demand that the Saudi Arabian government prove he had left the building.
It’s practically impossible to defend any one country’s actions in this now international dispute.
To try and prove that Khashoggi had indeed left the embassy alive, the Saudis had one of their agents dress in his clothing and impersonate him soon after he was killed. CCTV footage of this incident was intended to convince the international media that Khashoggi had left the building alive.
Even with the great — and frankly unbelievable — lengths Saudi Arabia went to cover up Khashoggi’s disappearance, it’s practically impossible to defend any one country’s actions in this now international dispute. Saudi Arabia, who has a long list of human rights violations on its track record, is obviously in an indefensible position.
But in a way, the murder of Khashoggi can be seen as Saudi Arabia testing the world; they’re skirting the line, trying to figure out how far is too far. As it turns out, killing a journalist doesn’t seem to be going too far according to the actions and responses of governments around the world.
Despite Erdogan’s public condemnation of the actions of Saudi Arabia, the Turkish president’s remarks ring hollow as he is guilty of silencing journalists in his own country in an effort to consolidate political power—he is known for jailing journalists who have called him out for tipping election scales in his favour and for systematically eradicating political rivals, among other things.
The U.S. and Canada are similarly to blame for their lack of reasonable action in the wake of this crime.
Shortly after Khashoggi’s disappearance, U.S. President Donald Trump publicly accepted the Saudi Arabian government’s denial of any involvement in the matter and stated that cancelling their $110 billion arms deal with the middle eastern power would do more harm than good to the United States.
The right thing to do would be to listen to the human rights organizations around the world that are demanding answers, and to stop supplying hundreds of tanks and war weapons to a country infamous for its human rights abuses that tried to cover up the murder of a journalist.
Meanwhile, human rights groups have urged the Canadian government to cancel their $15-billion trade contract with Saudi Arabia. In response to this demand, Trudeau has deflected responsibility, choosing to criticize the Harper administration for signing the Saudi deal in the first place, and stated that cancelling the arms deal would cost Canadians too much in economic terms. He even went so far as to say he didn’t want to “leave Canadians holding a billion-dollar bill because we are trying to move forward on doing the right thing.”
So what would be the right thing to do?
The right thing to do would be to listen to the human rights organizations around the world that are demanding answers, and to — at the very least — stop supplying hundreds of tanks and war weapons to a country infamous for its human rights abuses that tried to cover up the murder of a journalist.
When the governments of Canada and the U.S. condemned the murder of Khashoggi but chose not to cancel their arms and other trade deals with Saudi Arabia, the statement was clear: business deals matter more than the safety of journalists. This is the ultimate attack on freedom of the press as the international community has made it clear that they have no obligation to defend those who are tasked with holding the powers that be accountable.
If history has taught us anything, it’s that a free and open press is integral to the health of any democracy, and to allow a country to attack that freedom undermines its integrity. The right thing to do would be to defend the death of someone who sought the truth and fought to preserve the right of freedom of expression for news outlets across the globe.