I was lucky enough to have met Jamal Khashoggi on 29 September at MEMO’s conference during his last visit to the UK. I introduced myself to him as the Editor-in-Chief of an Arabic electronic newspaper in London. I told him that I would like to interview him at some point in the future and asked for his contact details. He gently handed me his business card and thanked me for expressing an interest in interviewing him.
I called him on Monday evening (1 October) to see if he was still in London, he told me that he was at the airport preparing to leave town. I assumed he was traveling to the United States so I didn’t ask him where he was going. When I inquired him about his next visit to London, he made it clear that he does not usually stay away from London for long, which I understood to mean that he will be back soon.
The following day, after midday, I heard the news of Khashoggi’s disappearance. It was difficult for me to understand what was going on in the beginning. I waited a few hours to learn more about this situation before deciding to call his fiancée, in order to conduct an interview with her the following day. She explained the story of his disappearance to me and I published what she said.
The news was a total shock, especially after all the leaks that we had seen. Jamal was someone whose writings I have followed for a long time. He was never in opposition of his country’s regime, but rather, he was considered “the son of the establishment”.
In fact, I was in touch with the notable Algerian-born international lawyer who is based in London, Saad Djebbar, who told me that when Jamal left Saudi Arabia about two years ago and came to the UK, “I met him and he told me that he had some worries about his country and that things were going from bad to worse in the kingdom, so he did not want to go back to his country. Jamal asked if it was possible to stay here and I told him that legally, he could stay if he had an investment or worked in a company. He asked me if there were other exceptions for writers and journalists. I told him that the other exception would be political asylum. ‘I do not want and I will never be opposing my country’, that was exactly what he said.”
Djebbar added: “We also met up the day before he went to Istanbul [1 October]. I expressed to him my surprise at the stupidity of the Saudi regime for forcing him in to the opposition camp, where he did not want to be. Jamal replied immediately: ‘Saad, I am not in the opposition and I will never be. I am an independent writer’.”
Yet Saudi Arabia tried to find an explanation for what happened to Khashoggi, but none of the versions of the story of his death sounded logical because they looked lacking satisfaction and credibility.
If this is how journalists are going to be treated in the Arab world, then there will be no way for the nation to have a free media. Silencing them in the alleged way that has been circulated will make the media suffer a catastrophe. This is not about getting rid of one individual anymore, it is about destroying the freedom of the entire press. This is because if the perpetrators are not held accountable for this alleged crime, then they can take it as a green light to carry on such actions and set an example for other regimes to behave similarly.
Although the kingdom has tried to portray itself in the past as a country that helps others, it has turned to being against itself by carrying out its devastating war in Yemen, unfair blockade on Qatar, treatment of activists, detaining the prime minster of another country as well as businessmen alongside members of the royal family and now the case of Jamal Khashoggi, which has made the kingdom’s reputation worse than ever before.
Saudi Arabia’s actions have clearly put some pressure on the kingdom’s allies. In fact, it seems that the US administration’s relationship with Saudi Arabia is becoming difficult to maintain. This is because the US congress has been taking a solid approach on Khashoggi’s matter and there has been a wide rejection of the kingdom’s actions.
It is time for the conscience of the international community to wake up and stand up for freedom of opinion everywhere. It is time for people to stand together to defend these rights, so the people can be informed and live in peace, because ignorance does not help anyone; not the people, the governments or the system.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.