“It was painful for me several years ago when several friends were arrested. I said nothing. I didn’t want to lose my job or my freedom. I worried about my family. I have made a different choice now. I have left my home, my family and my job, and I am raising my voice. To do otherwise would betray those who languish in prison.” Jamal Khashoggi
Pen America announced last Friday that more than 100 writers, journalists, artists, and activists are calling on the United Nations to initiate an independent investigation into the disappearance and apparent murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Marking a month since his disappearance and on the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists, the writers and artists issued an open letter demanding that those responsible be brought to justice.
Literary and artistic luminaries and leading journalists, including J.K. Rowling, Bob Woodward, Meryl Streep, Zadie Smith, Margaret Atwood, Arundhati Roy, Patrick Stewart, Chimamanda Adichie, Tom Stoppard, and Mario Vargas Llosa, have signed a letter calling on António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations, to launch a thorough and independent investigation into the disappearance and apparent murder of Jamal Khashoggi in order to uncover the truth and lay the groundwork for those responsible to be held accountable.
The letter reads: “The violent murder of a prominent journalist and commentator on foreign soil is a grave violation of human rights and a disturbing escalation of the crackdown on dissent in Saudi Arabia, whose government in recent years has jailed numerous writers, journalists, human rights advocates, and lawyers in a sweeping assault on free expression and association. It is also yet another data point in a global trend that has seen an increasing number of journalists imprisoned and murdered for their work. As writers and journalists ourselves, we fear the potential chilling effect of this trend, at a moment when the work of all those who would speak and expose the truth has never been more important.”
The letter also cites the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity, endorsed in 2012, which states that attacks on journalists “[deprive] society as a whole of their journalistic contribution and [result] in a wider impact on press freedom where a climate of intimidation and violence leads to self censorship.”
“The murder of Jamal Khashoggi was intended not just to silence one man, but to intimidate and suppress voices of dissent across borders,” said Summer Lopez, Senior Director of Free Expression Programs. “As such, it poses a threat not just to journalists, and not just to critics of the Saudi government, but to all those who would stand up for human rights and for the truth. China and Russia have already demonstrated a willingness to engage in extra-territorial and extra-judicial attacks on their critics; with Saudi Arabia joining that list, the threat to free expression globally is grave. In the face of such a vile and dangerous act, it is critical that the international community respond with fortitude and clarity in defense of journalists, and in defense of freedom of expression as a whole. The United Nations must lead that charge.”
Since Khashoggi’s disappearance, the Turkish government has repeatedly claimed to have evidence he was tortured, murdered, and dismembered inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Although Saudi authorities denied any knowledge of his whereabouts for two weeks after his disappearance, they subsequently admitted he had been killed inside the consulate, but offered an implausible explanation, suggesting that an attempt to detain Khashoggi went awry. Turkey and Saudi Arabia both claim to be investigating the case.
Jamal Khashoggi began his journalism career as a correspondent for the Saudi Gazette newspaper. Although once close to the inner circles of the Saudi royal family, he was gradually subjected to rigorous censorship by Saudi authorities. Concerned about his safety in Saudi Arabia following a crackdown on free expression that began in 2016 under the new Crown Prince, he went into self-imposed exile and moved to the United States in 2017. That September, he began reporting for the Washington Post as a columnist, where he continued to do so until his disappearance. On September 28, Khashoggi made his first trip to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, in order to inquire about the acquisition of documents needed for his second marriage. He disappeared on October 2, after returning to the building based on instructions provided to him.
PEN America Washington Director Thomas O. Melia spoke at a memorial service for Jamal Khashoggi in Washington, D. C. on Friday, November 2. More information is available here.
The open letter is available here.
PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. It champions the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Its stated mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible. pen.org
Poet and writer, I was once columnist and the associate editor of a regional employment publication. Currently I run this site, The Poet by Day, an information hub for poets and writers. I am the managing editor of The BeZine published by The Bardo Group Beguines (originally The Bardo Group), a virtual arts collective I founded. I am a weekly contributor to Beguine Again, a site showcasing spiritual writers.
My work is featured in a variety of publications and on sites, including: Levure littéraure, Ramingo’s Porch, Vita Brevis Literature,Compass Rose, Connotation Press, The River Journal, The Bar None Group, Salamander Cove, Second Light, I Am Not a Silent Poet, Meta / Phor(e) /Play, and California Woman