Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi was killed for criticizing his government.
As students in the United States, we should take this moment to remember that violence against journalists is a more severe problem than we may recognize in our day-to-day lives.
In this country, we too often take freedom of the press for granted: A September report from the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press found that 52 percent of voters did not see press freedom as under threat.
Yet, outside of the United States, reporters and columnists — including members of the Georgetown University community, such as Austin Tice (COL ’02) — put themselves at great risk to keep readers informed of their governments’ actions.
As many of us at Georgetown prepare for careers of public service in diplomacy, journalism and other fields aimed at peace and truth, we should remember that the work we take for granted in the United States — including reporting the facts, criticizing our own government and protesting for what we believe in — can be death sentences for those in other countries.
In September 2016, Khashoggi was barred from writing his column in Saudi newspaper al-Hayat after criticizing then-presidential candidate Donald Trump, according to reports from the U.S. Department of State and Business Insider. Khashoggi then moved to the United States and began writing columns for The Washington Post in 2017. He wrote several articles critical of his home country’s intervention in Yemen and of the policies of Saudi Arabia’s King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
On Oct. 2, Khashoggi entered the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul, where he had an appointment to obtain documentation of his divorce so that he could marry his Turkish fiancee. Surveillance video footage of both doorways show that Khashoggi never left; multiple Turkish and U.S. outlets have reported that he has been killed.
Agents of the Saudi government tortured, dismembered and beheaded Khashoggi, according to The New York Times.
The civil liberties we can take for granted are not the reality in other countries.
In his final column, submitted to The Washington Post by his assistant the day after he disappeared from the consulate in Turkey, Khashoggi himself lamented the state-led attack on the free press across the Arab world.
“Arab governments have been given free rein to continue silencing the media at an increasing rate,” Khashoggi wrote. “These governments, whose very existence relies on the control of information, have aggressively blocked the Internet. They have also arrested local reporters and pressure advertisers to harm the revenue of specific publications.”
Two weeks ago, one of these governments captured and mutilated one of its citizens. Khashoggi was punished for the grave sin of criticizing his home country, reminding us once again that honorable intentions are often pursued at a steep price.
This issue is unfortunately pertinent to members of the Georgetown community.
In August 2012, Tice was kidnapped while working as a journalist in Syria. His whereabouts are still unknown, and the U.S. government believes he was captured by either the Syrian government or pro-government forces.
Freelancing for The Washington Post, McClatchy and several other news organizations, Tice was reporting on how the war in Syria affected the lives of ordinary citizens.
Tice, a Marine Corps veteran, embodies the Georgetown prerogative of becoming a “global citizen,” as did Khashoggi. As Georgetown students study and explore the globe, seeking to better understand our world, we must remind ourselves how real these threats to freedom can become.
Journalists are not the only people who experience these threats every day. Khashoggi’s fellow Saudi Arabians, along with citizens of other countries that restrict expression, must live with the risk of governmental retaliation if they criticize their government. Becoming global citizens means Georgetown students must recognize that troubling reality.
Austin Tice showed the Georgetown community that threats against journalists are closer to home than we realize. Jamal Khashoggi should remind us that speaking the truth carries great risk — even for a man off the job, only looking to marry his fiancee.
The Hoya’s editorial board is composed of six students and is chaired by the Opinion Editor. Editorials reflect only the beliefs of a majority of the board and are not representative of The Hoya or any individual member of the board.