• Flynn Devine

The murder of a critic: Jamal Khashoggi

The killing of US-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018 was an international news sensation and since then his death has been a stain on the reputation of Saudi Arabia and Mohammed Bin Salman (MBS), the Kingdom's young Crown Prince. This story has recently resurfaced in the global media following releases of multiple reports directly implicating MBS in the crime.

So what exactly happened and why does it matter so much?

The Issue

Mr Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist working for the Washington Post at the time of his murder, was an avid critic of the Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince MBS, who you can read about here. In 2018 he paid the price for speaking out against this young, but dangerous leader, when he was murdered in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.

The 59 year old has been visiting the Consulate, for a second time, in order to receive documents allowing him to marry his Turkish fiancé Hatice Cengiz, who had accompanied him on his visit. He was seen by CCTV entering the diplomatic outpost on the 2nd of October at 13:14 local time and was never seen again by his wife to be or anyone else.

Turkey accused foul play on the side of the Saudi government, which they denied outright. However, following a long period of investigations, court rulings and several diplomatic to and fros in 2019 Saudi Arabia carried out the sentencing of 11 unnamed individuals they stated were involved, serving 5 with the death penalty.

This death penalty was later overturned and replaced with 20 years in prison for each of the condemned. Turkish authorities went on to try 20 Saudi nationals in absentia (meaning they were not physically present at the trial), finding them guilty. However, the Kingdom refuses to return them to Turkey to face the charges levelled against them, meaning this is a largely symbolic ruling.

Saudi leadership has always denied accusations of involvement, but following reports by the UN and the US many within the international arena believe the de facto ruler to have been directly involved in the events of 2018.

The History

Jamal had been living primarily in the US since 2017, where he was writing for the American news organisation. Although he had historically been reasonably close with, and even advised, the Saudi Royal family, he entered self-imposed exile and moved to the states where he became a prominent voice against MBS and the practices of his leadership.

Khashoggi's pieces, even whilst writing in Saudi media, had heavily criticised the Religious class within Saudi society and generally favoured a more moderate approach to Islam. After a crackdown on critics of Saudi leading classes, Mr Khashoggi fled the country and moved towards direct criticism of the Kingdom's rulers.

The International Dimension

The murder of a Saudi-born, US-based journalist in Turkey lends itself to international variables. Although the crime was legally done on Saudi ground, his body was disposed of on Turkish soil and his standing with a prominent US organisation means America has to get involved whether they like it or not.

This is not only a criminal case, but a geopolitical one. The decisions that come from these findings will clearly highlight the political standing of many nations involved. For example the US' unwillingness to press charges against the Saudi Prince clearly demonstrates larger picture thinking, framing foreign policy above individual conviction.

This also speaks to the Saudi regime's commitment to a large scale policy of censorship, as the targeted assassination of an international journalist is a bold move. Clearly MBS and his Kingdom are willing to cross many lines to maintain their course and the lack of international response outlines the power they hold on the international stage.


Some, like Brian Fogel, Oscar-winning Director of the new Khashoggi documentary The Dissident, believes America has largely given MBS a free-pass, even after coming to their own conclusions that he ordered the killing of a US-based journalist.

The international community has largely condemned Saudi Arabia for this gruesome murder, but any tangible action is yet to really be seen. There have been some sanctions and some legal rulings but no major actions against the state, signifying that at this point in time Saudi Arabia is largely impermeable to any repercussions.