Jamal Khashoggi’s Death: A Closer Look at Human Rights in Saudi Arabia

On 2 October, Jamal Khashoggi entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in the hopes of obtaining a document to certify his divorce from his ex-wife. Jamal Khashoggi was a successful writer for the Washington Post and happily engaged to his fiancé, Hatice Cengiz. In private conversations between he and his fiancé, Mr. Khashoggi expressed that he felt concerned about his visit to the consulate, and he knew that there was a risk of him being arrested. Khashoggi had moved to Turkey in the last year after fleeing from his homeland, Saudi Arabia, because he feared for his life.

For decades, Jamal Khashoggi was close to the royal Al-Saud family in Saudi, and served as an adviser to the government. However, he fell out of favour with the Saudi royal family and was labelled a dissident. He became a critic of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and sought refuge in the United States where he could freely express the voices from his homeland.

Image courtesy of April Brady via Wikimedia, © 2018, some rights reserved.

What was supposed to be an uneventful visit to the Saudi consulate turned into a mysterious disappearance when Khashoggi entered the building and then failed to exit. The mysterious circumstances of his disappearance rose red flags across the international community, with Turkish officials under Erdogan being the first to launch investigations. There are bits and pieces of CCTV footage showing Khashoggi entering the building, and the group of men that arrived just before him. Other news agencies believed that Khashoggi’s Apple Watch recorded his interaction with men in the Saudi consulate. What happened to the dissident journalist proved to be far worse than anyone imagined, after it was finally established that Khashoggi was killed and dismembered inside of the consulate.

Images from airport footage identified the Saudi “death squad” that had arrived at the consulate earlier that day, known as Firqat el-Nemr, or the tiger squad. The tiger squad is comprised of the 50 skilled intelligence and military operatives in Saudi Arabia, and the members are unflinchingly loyal to Riyadh’s crown prince, MBS. For fear of attracting criticism from the international community, the regime in Saudi Arabia uses the tiger squad to quietly assassinate Saudi dissidents both inside the kingdom and on foreign soil. Jamal Khashoggi, therefore, strangled and cut into pieces during a premeditated attack by affiliates of the regime.

Saudi Arabia has notoriously violated the international standards of human rights, and has received criticism for how it has handled critics of the regime. At the beginning of August, Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland tweeted her concerns about social activists who were being detained in Saudi Arabia, namely Samar Badawi. She wrote, “We urge the Saudi authorities to immediately release them and all other peaceful #humanrights activist.” The ultra-conservative regime in the kingdom did not to the tweet lightly and called the tweet an “overt and blatant interference with internal affairs in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.” I had been living in Saudi over the summer, in Riyadh’s Diplomatic Quarter, just a few blocks from the Canadian Embassy in the Saudi Arabia. Within 48 hours I watched the Canadian Embassy in Riyadh completely shut down, as Saudi Arabia froze trade and cut diplomatic ties with Canada. Saudi officials expelled the Canadian ambassador and ordered any Saudis studying in Canada to return immediately. The dramatic measures taken by Saudi Arabia set a precedent that MBS’s administration would not take kindly to criticism from other foreign leaders.

Saudi Arabia is consistently flagged as one of the worst violators of human rights by groups such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. The international community has been fawning over Crown Prince MBS, as his corruption sweep, legalization of female drivers, and Vision 2030 project have promised a bright future for Saudis. The brazen, Mafia-style murder of Jamal Khashoggi, along with the dramatic severing of Saudi-Canadian ties, indicates that Saudi Arabia may not be progressing as much as the international community had hoped. Saudi Arabia’s role in driving the humanitarian crisis in Yemen contributes to their concerningly violent behaviour, as their air-strikes are the leading cause of civilian fatalities in Yemen.

On 24 October, the corpses of Tala and Rotana Farea were found duct-taped together at the base of the Hudson River in New York. Detectives are still unravelling the mysterious deaths of the Saudi sisters, but their mother has come forward with a statement claiming Saudi officials had called her and ordered their return to Saudi Arabia just a few weeks prior. Their bodies were taped together face to face, with their arms outstretched so that together the bodies made the shape of a cross. However, their bodies had no signs of trauma.

Saudi Arabia has continued to receive support from other countries in the GCC and Arab community. Additionally, Trump has shown few signs of ending his close friendship with Saudi’s crown prince. The tragic fate of Jamal Khashoggi should have been the last straw for Saudi Arabia, but world leaders fear what will happen if they oppose MBS’s regime. Additionally, Trump’s administration heavily relies on oil production from Saudi Arabia and participates in mutually-beneficial arms deal. There is now some hope that the international community will have to take decisive action against Saudi Arabia’s campaign to eliminate dissidents, but world leaders are still heavily involved with Saudi Arabia as a valuable business partner. In the next few years, it will be necessary for the international community to step in, in order to free the oppressed and wrongly imprisoned. Jamal Khashoggi’s violent death, though a tragic, has made human rights violations in Saudi Arabia an issue that the world can no longer ignore.