Activists urge action from Biden at Khashoggi vigil
Human rights advocates held a vigil for slain Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi on Friday in Washington DC, where a large portrait of the murdered writer was unveiled.
The image, composed of images of Khashoggi’s The Washington Post columns, was unveiled on the same day as another, made up of articles implicating Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman in the murder, in Los Angeles.
Both installations were unveiled to mark the third anniversary of Khashoggi’s assassination, which took place at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul On October 2, 2018.
The vigil was organised by the Freedom First campaign, as part of The Freedom Initiative in partnership with Amnesty International USA.
“We honour Jamal's life by continuing the work he was murdered for; shedding light on the grave injustices in the Arab world, and pursuing justice and accountability. This commemoration serves as a reminder at home and abroad that Jamal's legacy lives on through his work and inspiration.” Mohamed Soltan, Founder of the Freedom Initiative, said.
Khashoggi's fiancé Hatice Cengiz, Philippe Nassif, MENA Advocacy Director at Amnesty International USA; and Sherif Mansour, Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator at the Committee to Protect Journalists were just some of the prominent human rights figures who spoke of their fond memories of the late journalist.
“He was my Jamal and he was taken from me and his family and loved ones. He was taken from every hopeful Saudi who dared to believe in a better future. A more dignified future. He was taken from us all,” Cengiz said at the vigil.
She described how Khashoggi spoke from a place of hope for the Arab world and believed that the region deserved a better future.
Cengiz called on US President Joe Biden to stand by his promise of not allowing Khashoggi’s death to be in vain. She also quoted directly from Biden’s remarks where he said: “ Khashoggi and his loved ones deserve accountability. Jamal’s death will note be in vain”. Cengiz called on both Biden and Harris to “step up” and asked, “When will you fulfil your promises? When will you translate your words into action?”.
A report conducted under the Biden administration, released in February from The Office of the Director of Intelligence (ODNI), stated that Prince Mohammed had approved the killing of Khashoggi. However, to date the crown prince has still not been held accountable.
“There has been neither justice nor truth for Jamal Khashoggi and his loved ones. This was not some rogue operation. This was not an exception. This is the rule and the norm in Saudi Arabia, and we will not let those responsible get away with it.” Nassif said.
Khashoggi’s final column for The Washington Post poignantly expressed the need for freedom of expression in the Arab world. He spoke of the challenges of those who had spoken out against the Saudi government, saying that “Arab governments had been given a free rein to silence the media at an increasing rate”.
His words ring true for one former Saudi journalist who goes by the name of “Ahmed”, who requested The New Arab conceal his identity for safety reasons.
We all have a fear we could be killed if we say one wrong thing. They (Saudi authorities) could catch us anywhere we go
Ahmed was a freelance journalist in Saudi Arabia often critical of the Saudi government’s policies, however was mindful that just one negative social media post against authorities could send him to prison.
“I wanted to be a fearless writer, someone who spoke the truth and questioned the government on their political mishandlings. After hearing about Khashoggi’s death a fear drew within me. I knew I would never truly be free to speak out against human rights abuses as long as I lived here (Saudi Arabia)” Ahmed told The New Arab.
In conversations with other Saudi journalists, Ahmed says his fellow peers do not have the freedom to write what they truly feel on their social media accounts or within the Saudi mainstream papers.
“They double and triple check every single word to ensure that it does not come across as negative of our government, even if what they wanted to say was along those lines. We all have a fear we could be killed if we say one wrong thing. They (Saudi authorities) could catch us anywhere we go.”
Ahmed says that despite moving away from Saudi Arabia, he still misses home and says that if not for the current leadership, he wishes that he could return home one day as a journalist.
“I love my country just as Jamal Khashoggi did. I don’t know if there will ever be a time when I feel safe enough to return to Saudi Arabia because I know that unless I follow the status quo my life could be in danger as is the case for many other prominent figures who choose to criticise policies of the government,” Ahmed said.
Ahmed welcomed the commemoration of Jamal Khashoggi’s life, calling the slain writer his “inspiration”. He hopes that one day justice will prevail and journalists in the country will see a “better future ahead”.
For now, however, it seems a distant dream “unless accountability and justice is implemented”.
Tasnim Nazeer is an award-winning journalist, author, and Universal Peace Federation Ambassador. She has written for Al Jazeera, The Guardian, The Huffington Post, Middle East Eye, CNN, BBC, and others. She was awarded the FIPP the global network of media Rising Stars in Media Award 2018.
Follow her on Twitter: @tasnimnazeer1