PEN South Africa Condemns Lies About and Murder of Saudi Journalist Jamal Khashoggi

22 Oct 2018
PEN South Africa Condemns Lies About and Murder of Saudi Journalist Jamal Khashoggi

In line with many of our colleagues at other PEN Centres, the Board of PEN South Africa condemns the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul, Turkey. He had entered the consulate on 2 October 2018 in order to obtain official documents related to his upcoming marriage.

Mr Khashoggi, who was a writer for the Washington Post in the US at the time of his death, had been an outspoken critic of the Saudi state for most of his career. He had been previously punished by the state for his editorial and journalist work. In 2003, for example, he had been fired as editor-in-chief of the Abha-based newspaper Al Watan by the Saudi Ministry of Information, for allowing the running of a column critical of a founding scholar of Wahhabism, the ultra-conservative sect of Islam that underpins the Saudi state. After a period of voluntary exile in the 2000s, Mr Khashoggi left Saudi Arabia for the final time in September 2017.

The killing of a journalist is damnable enough, but the obfuscation by the Saudi state about events that happened in their consulate suggests that this was a deliberate act of murder, targeting a reporter critical of the Saudi state, perpetrated by Saudi actors. Although the Saudi government initially denied Mr Khashoggi had died – saying that he had left the consulate alive despite the absence of CCTV footage – more than two weeks later they have confirmed his death, claiming that he had been murdered during a physical altercation inside the consulate.

The delay and obfuscation of this news should raise alarm. It should also raise concerns about further claims by Saudi officials that the killing was “a rogue operation”.

Mr Khashoggi’s final piece for the Washington Post, published after his death, argues that “Arab governments have been given free rein to continue silencing the media at an increasing rate.” These actions, however, “no longer carry the consequence of a backlash from the international community. Instead, these actions may trigger condemnation quickly followed by silence.”

These actions must have consequences. We are happy to note that President Cyril Ramaphosa has reportedly cancelled a meeting between South African and Saudi Arabian officials in the wake of the killing. Still of concern, however, is the reported R10 billion investment that the Saudi Arabian government is planning to invest in South Africa.

We call upon the South African government to add more pressure to the Saudi Arabian government by demanding to receive a transparent report and documentation relating to the killing of Mr Khashoggi. If there is a failure to provide proof that Mr Khashoggi’s death was, as per Saudi communications, an accident, and a failure to prosecute those responsible for his death, South Africa should, in no circumstances, accept investment by a state whose attitude to freedom of the press and the safety of journalists is opposed to its own.