The murder of Jamal Khashoggi: How safe are journalists?

By Sabyasachi Biswal

“Silence Jamal Khashoggi as soon as possible” – Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Muhammed Bin Salman (Moore 2018)

The alleged cold-blooded murder of Saudi journalist from the hands of armed assailants in recent months is no freak accident in the international. In fact, the entire case study involving a journalist, more specifically a Saudi dissident being the centre of the target speaks volumes about the current problem faced by media personnel and the right of free speech to uncover truth, which even after getting magnitude of attention from the international communities remain the last priority or worse than that, fails to exist as a priority for many developed and developing nations, most of them being flourishing democracies. Jamal Khashoggi, born on 13thOctober 1958 was the editor-in-chief of Al-Arab News Channel and a Saudi journalist critical of the Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman and was also said to oppose the Saudi Arabia led intervention in Yemen. The figure of progressiveness in Saudi through his newspaper Al Watan, Khashoggi was brutally murdered by alleged Saudi officials inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on 2ndOctober 2018 amidst repeated claims from the Saudi government denying any connection in this incident, linking it to a mere fisticuff between Khashoggi and another unknown assailant.

Later in October, this entire incident gained political mileage from the President of Turkey, Reccep Tayip Erdogan who himself being a firebrand leader called out the entire Royal Saudi family and Bin Salman to be the main conspirator and accused in the murder of a journalist in their soil through illegal means even if the consulate is considered as a jurisdiction of the nation owning it. Turkish government pleaded intervention before the international community and the US (Being the main ally of Saudi) to carry out an unbiased investigation on the murder case which many believed was impossible with Turkey being a staunch enemy of the Saudi government. The death of Khashoggi which was meant to raise questions on the safety of freedom of speech and expression and on overall journalists soon turned out into a political battle of heated mud slings between western and eastern hemispheres alike. Later, an inspection with joint cooperative investigation between Turkish and Saudi officials took place on 15th October 2018 with Saudi officials releasing the initial reports of Khashoggi surprisingly leaving the consulate alive which was later changed in 20th October by the Saudi government stating that Khashoggi was strangled to death by unknown assailants during a fist fight with absolutely no involvement of Saudi officials. To the astonishment of the entire world audience, the case dragged many international parties to the main scene which saw the rise, fall and contradictions of statements on a daily basis without any concrete evidence of what really happened to Khashoggi. Once again, in an act of utter surprise a Saudi Attorney General on 25th October stated that the murder was premeditated which brings us to big question of how do the international community fare the death of journalists? Should the safety of a journalist be an international concern or should be carried out nationally with credible cooperation from international organisations? Is the judicial system in a state strengthened enough to investigate the death or injury caused to a journalist or media personnel in an unbiased manner? Are super-powers (taking hint from Khashoggi case) actively involved in curbing the voice of dissent and encourage impunity against journalists?

The fate which Khashoggi became victim to is nothing new in the world of international affairs. In fact, he was a small target in the long list of journalists slained or deliberately tarhetted at the least for provisions of new and information. Recent data shows that in 2018 almost 65 journalists around the world are killed in connection of uncovering truth at the frontlines of media with 60% of 65 personnel deliberately targeted and 40% killed while on duty. This data fortunately being 18% less than the data of 2016 doesn’t really contribute in decreasing atrocities against journalists since 1035 professional journalist has been a victim of atrocities and murder for the last 15 years starting from 2003 with the year 2007 topping with 88 deaths (Repoters without borders n.d.). Other notable journalist sharing the same fate as Khashoggi include Gauri Lankesh (India); Daphne Caruana Galizia (Malta); Edwin Rivera Paz (Honduras) etc.

It is no surprise that countries like Russia, India, Philippines, Brazil, USA find the top spots in the global impunity index for the last 10 years or so, in fact what is more shocking is that almost of these countries have a democratic form of government offering freedom of speech as a fundamental right. But most of the times issues of protection of journalists in these countries is overshadowed by a political motivation for national self interest over international obligations, which was deemed illegal under Vienna Convention for Law of Treaty and Geneva Convention. Recent example of POTUS Donald Trump’s denial of impose sanctions on Saudi government even after CIA confirmation on Bin Salman’s involvement in the conspiracy on the pretext that USA at any point will not cancel 200 Billion Dollar oil deal for a journalist perfectly elucidates this example.

Moreover, international organisations like the UN, EU, AU are all mere pawns in the hands of the superpowers and are unable to take any concrete steps in this matter elucidated in the fact that there has been no international convention and covenants either in the human rights or jus in bello/jus ad gellum to protect journalists from strategic attacks to stop the dissemination of vital information in the society and it has also failed to acknowledge that journalists in times of conflict and peace-time are easy target of conflicting parties that the civilians (National Union of Journalists n.d.).

At the end, it is very important that important nation states like the US and international organisations take prior cognizance of the matter to release and discuss accountability frameworks with the member nations to protect journalists and allow for greater dissemination of truth and information under the umbrella of freedom of speech without any human casualty, and coerce the states to follow the frameworks for a greater net of safety also in collaboration with international NGOs. The time can never be this ripe to consider safety of journalists as an inherent and undetachable part of Human Rights by the so called International Organisations and developed nations.


  1. Moore, Mark. New York Post.November 22, 2018. https://nypost.com/2018/11/22/cia-has-recording-of-mbs-saying-silence-jamal-khashoggi-report/ (accessed 2018).
  2. National Union of Journalists.n.d. https://www.nuj.org.uk/news/global-campaign-for-new-un-convention-on-journalists-protection/ (accessed December 2018).
  3. Repoters without borders.n.d. https://rsf.org/en/journalists-killed (accessed December 2018).

Sabyasachi Biswal is a first-year Post Graduate student pursuing his degree in Diplomacy, International Law and Business from the coveted School of International Affairs at OP Jindal Global University, Sonepat, Haryana.

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Foreign Policy News is a self-financed initiative providing a venue and forum for political analysts and experts to disseminate analysis of major political and business-related events in the world, shed light on particulars of U.S. foreign policy from the perspective of foreign media and present alternative overview on current events affecting the international relations.

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