Born into a family of wealth and connections, Khashoggi was the nephew of Saudi arms dealer Adnan Khashoggi. Khashoggi was a voice of moderation in a kingdom at war with terrorism in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks in the United States.
Two weeks after Khashoggi disappeared, The Washington Post published what it said appears to be his final column, in which the journalist writes of the importance of a free press in the Arab world.
“The Arab world is facing its own version of an Iron Curtain, imposed not by external actors but through domestic forces vying for power,” he wrote. The Iron Curtain was the name used for the division of Europe into two areas between 1945 and 1992. The term symbolises efforts by the former Soviet Union to block itself from contact with the West and its allied states.
Khashoggi warned that governments in the Middle East “have been given free rein to continue silencing the media at an increasing rate”. He noted that some Middle East leaders were blocking internet access so they could tightly control what their citizens can see.
The deadly attack on Khashoggi is not the only recent incident in which a journalist has been threatened, hurt, or killed. In April, 10 journalists were killed in two attacks in Afghanistan. All of these deaths were tragedies for everyone who loved the victims. But attacks on journalists, like attacks on doctors or judges, are not just attacks on individuals and their families: they aim to tear what connects society together. Not all journalists are singled out for killing, of course. Those who never attack the powerful or do not put themselves in harm’s way are unlikely to be victims.
Yet, neither is it necessary to display the determination of the Maltese reporter Daphne Caruana Galizia, killed in a car bomb near her home last year, to be at risk. Often, it is enough to be doing the unglamorous work of reporting what happens in plain sight. There are times and places when the simple truth is enough to make journalists a threat. In Afghanistan, as in Pakistan, in Mexico, and above all in Syria, journalists are killed simply for recording the horror around them.
Indian reporters say they are increasingly facing intimidation aimed at stopping them from running stories critical of Narendra Modi, the prime minister. In March, three Indian journalists were run over and killed over 48 hours in what were claimed to be deliberate attacks after exposing corruption.
Neerja Choudhary, an Indian columnist, said the Indian government was not acting as it should be given the rise in attacks on journalists.
“If the government was serious about the freedom of press, the media can’t be treated like an upstart,” she said. “Those who want to stifle dissenting voices are getting emboldened as nobody is brought to book.”
What role do journalists play in society, and why have there been so many attacks on them?