The fiancée of murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi has said Donald Trump’s US administration still has “much to answer for” on the first anniversary of his death.
Hatice Cengiz issued a call for “justice”, “accountability” and a “long-overdue investigation” into Khashoggi’s death at the hands of Saudi agents at the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, on 2 October 2018.
Her pleas were echoed by human rights and freedom of expression organisations who pushed for an impartial criminal probe ending in the prosecution of those who ordered the Washington Post columnist’s killing.
Campaign group Reporters Without Borders (Reporters Sans Frontieres), laid dozens of dismembered mannequins in hi-vis jackets bearing the word “Press” on them outside the Saudi consulate in Paris yesterday.
The group said it wanted to “highlight the regime’s violations of media rights”.
Khashoggi was in self-exile in the US, having become a vocal critic of the Saudi regime, when he was killed attempting to collect divorce papers to enable him to marry Cengiz, who was waiting outside the consulate for him.
Once inside, Khashoggi was tortured and killed by group of Saudi agents, whom the kingdom claims went rogue. Evidence seen by BBC Panorama points to them having been sent as a hit squad, however.
A recording heard by a Turkish newspaper revealed the journalist used his last words to plead: “Don’t cover my mouth. I have asthma, don’t do it. You’ll suffocate me.”
Khashoggi’s body has never been found, with reports that he was likely dismembered and burned in a large oven at the Saudi consulate general’s Istanbul residence.
Writing in the Guardian today, Cengiz said justice for her fiance’s murder has so far “not been forthcoming”.
“Instead, I have noticed two things,” she wrote. “First, among some, an outpouring of international sympathy, declarations of regret and sorrow at the killing of my fiance.
“But from others silence, broken only by the weakest of criticisms of the Saudi government – when to speak out would matter most.
“Here the Trump administration – which has the most power to effect change – has much to answer for. It has said nothing. Nothing close to the denunciation and promise of scrutiny that it is morally right to make.”
Cengiz today stood outside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul as she did one year ago – but this time she was accompanied by those paying their respects to Khashoggi, including Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos and Agnes Callamard, the United Nations special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings.
Callamard said in a report, published in June, that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman should face further investigation over the murder, adding that there is “credible evidence, warranting further investigation” that he and other high-level Saudi officials may be liable.
Bin Salman said last week that he accepted “full responsibility” for the killing as a leader in Saudi Arabia, but denied ordering it to take place.
Cengiz praised Callamard as “a woman brave enough to point the finger” and said governments that ignored the conclusion of her report should be questioned and criticised.
“Indeed, we should be wary of any government that ignores hard facts and the conclusions of our global institutions, as well as those who run costly PR campaigns to hide their wrongdoing,” she said.
Washington Post publisher and chief executive Fred Ryan was also present at the memorial service in Istanbul, which was hosted by a number of NGOs including RSF and Amnesty International.
Ryan said: “At the Washington Post, we deeply mourn Jamal’s loss. His readers knew him as a talented columnist, and those who worked with him knew him as a trusted colleague and a dear friend.
“It is meaningful that we are joined today by Jeff Bezos, the owner of the Washington Post. Jeff has been resolute in standing up for courageous and independent journalism around the world.”
He praised Cengiz for searching “unceasingly” for answers about her fiance’s death, and sharing his “message about the importance of a free press”.
The Washington Post today published a special memorial section in print and online, and ran a full-page print ad honouring his memory and saying: “His life was taken, but his pursuit of the truth lives on.”
A group of 19 non-governmental organisations, including Amnesty International, Article 19, English PEN and the Index on Censorship, have signed a call for action to both the international community and Saudi Arabia.
They want international governments and the UN to “take action to ensure that a further impartial, prompt, thorough, independent and effective criminal investigation” is opened.
They also called for them to ensure that “all perpetrators of the crime, including those at the head of the chain of command, are identified and prosecuted in a fair and transparent trial” without the threat of the death penalty.
Saudi Arabia has charged 11 people and is seeking the death penalty for five of them, but has faced criticism for holding the trial of the unnamed defendants behind closed doors.
The NGOs also called for an “immediate moratorium” on all arms sales and exports of surveillance technology to Saudi Arabia and the introduction of a UN resolution establishing a monitoring mechanism over the human rights situation in the country.
They urged Saudi Arabia to return Khashoggi’s remains to his family, invite independent international experts to oversee investigations into his murder, and cooperate with the UN to ensure those responsible are brought to justice.
The country should also release all journalists, writers and human rights defenders it has detained, guarantee the rights of such workers, and drop the death penalty, they said.
The International Press Institute has separately written to King Salman of Saudi Arabia to raise concerns about the “slow pace of prosecution” in the case and the “extremely disturbing” secrecy around it, urging him to support a UN-led criminal investigation as per Callamard’s recommendations.
IPI executive director Barbara Trionfi wrote: “The international community has lost faith in Saudi Arabia’s justice system.
“The only way to reverse this is for your government to take immediate and concrete steps to bring all those responsible for the murder.”
The International Federation of Journalists also demanded an “international and independent investigation”.
The group’s general secretary, Anthony Bellanger, said: “If the perpetrators are not held to account, oppressive governments of the world will see it as a green light to commit crimes against a journalist with impunity. We won’t allow it.”
Explaining the reasoning behind its mannequin protest in Paris, RSF said: “Mexico’s drug cartel killers been dismembering journalists and leaving their remains on garbage dumps for years, but who would have imagined that government agents might be capable of killing and dismembering a journalist within a diplomatic compound?
“And yet this is what happened to Khashoggi…”
The group’s secretary general Christophe Deloire said the murder of Khashoggi and subsequent investigation “testify to barbaric practices and an unacceptable level of impunity”.
“We expect a full accounting, and we think that sentencing perpetrators to death would just be a way to silence them forever, to conceal the truth.
“This appalling crime has revealed Saudi Arabia’s policy for silencing journalists to those who were unaware, a policy based on torture, abduction and even outright murder.”
Picture: Reuters/Umit Bektas