By Joel Kenneth Ndawula
Jamal Khashoggi walked, quite literally, to his death when he stepped into the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul to attain his marriage paperwork. Unknown to him, 15 men, all part of the Saudi security apparatus, awaited him. Once inside, Khashoggi was ushered to the office of the consul general from which he was dragged and taken to another room. There, he was tortured, mutilated, injected with a sedative and cut to pieces. The ordeal was said to have lasted seven minutes.
Initial reports said Khashoggi had gone missing having been last seen entering the Saudi consulate. Details of what transpired would soon be leaked to the media by Turkish intelligence. This sparked reactions from the International spectrum. The Saudi government publicly denied having any knowledge of Khashoggi’s whereabouts. However, this changed when more evidence about Saudi involvement was made public knowledge by the Turks through the media.
The European community has been very bitter with Saudi Arabia. With France, Britain and Germany at the fore front, delegates have stopped relations with the Saudis on diplomatic and economic platforms. America on the other hand, having defense trade deals worth billions of dollars, has been very light handed with the Saudi government. Unlike their European counterparts, the American government, with objection from within the congress and the public as well, has refrained from confronting the Saudis.
With the shifting Saudi narratives, it becomes clear that this assassination was poorly planned and the Saudi government was caught off guard by what came after. They weren’t well prepared or expecting the backlash that came from the international community. After all, Jamal Khashoggi was just an exiled journalist.
Freedom of the press has always been a thorn in the side of governments throughout history. The reason for Khashoggi’s assault is still unclear. It might be as easy as the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), wanting to deal with a critic of his reign or something more complex. Whatever, the case, it is inarguable that this is an issue of a government that mishandled the proverbial thorn in their side in an unprecedented manner.
Very often, governments violate the fundamental Human Rights. Uganda is no exception! During the recent ‘people power’ protests, UPDF personnel were seen beating up journalists that were evidently not part of the riots. Under the guise of keeping the peace, these military operatives administered heavy and sometimes fatal beatings to civilians and journalists.
The most memorable was the Reuters journalist James Akena who was hospitalized after being battered by soldiers while covering the riots. With good media coverage of the event, the UPDF had to issue an apology terming the act as careless and unprofessional.
In November last year, the Chief Editor of the Investigator, Stanley Ndawula, was charged with disturbing the peace of the then IGP, Gen. Kale Kayihura (KK). The case was later dismissed for want of prosecution. Stanley Ndawula was a renowned critic of KK and to any incredulous mind, it was Kayihura’s way of quieting the journalist.
Similarly, in July this year, Stanley was kidnapped by ISO operatives from his lounge in Kamwokya. The reason for his kidnap, he said, was his alleged knowledge of ISO torture chambers around the country. The ISO chief had been made aware of a story broken by The Trumpet, another media website, which featured details of the said chambers. Stanley was interrogated to no end as he had no attachment to the article or the website that published it. He was later released.
It is absurd that security agencies pursue civilians and make arrests using executions that undermine their constitutional rights. It is not common for these abductions to end with death of the victim. However, the case of Jamal Khashoggi should be an eye opener. The Saudi government and the crown prince in particular, should’ve known better than to kill a journalist within their own consulate.
Any government agency or official, shouldn’t pursue, arrest or torture a civilian without substantiated cause, let alone using unconstitutional methods. Much as the Turkish government is involved in this investigation, it should be a case that is looked into by the United Nations.
The Saudi government did violate the Human Rights Act. However, being a global business power with extensive outreach in various major international business deals creates for the Saudi Government a safety net of some kind. The United States of America and UK are the biggest exporters of weapons to Saudi Arabia, therefore cutting ties with the country would mean major monetary losses as well as job cuts. This implies that any country, with the exception of Turkey, intending to confront Saudi Arabia will tread lightly. All the more reason for a neutral third party like the UN to be involved.
The power of the media is unknown to many people. However, those that understand it have stood to benefit a great deal from it. Abraham Lincoln was well aware of this and consequently surrounded himself and made friends with journalists. Erdogan, the Turkish president, has managed to nudge the public court in his favor. It is the media that shapes the public opinion and as any person with the basic knowledge of how governance works would know, public perception is very important.
Unfortunately, many governments overlook this fact. It is healthier for a government to befriend the media than make an enemy of it. As history has it, governments that attack media freedom have always come down crumbling. The media is a much stronger tool than any armies and arsenal. Therefore, governments should as much as possible avoid baseless confrontations with journalists that have fatal endings.
Journalists are dutifully obliged to provide the public with regular updates regarding the affairs of a state. For that reason, they are not in violation of the constitution when they deliver the service that is required of them. It shouldn’t matter how information is attained by these individuals, all that should be considered is the accuracy of the information. Unfortunately, many journalists suffer for accurate news! They end up being interrogated about their sources which as any journalist knows, would be unprofessional to reveal.
Whatever becomes of the Saudi government shall set a stage for what becomes of press oppressors. Undoubtedly, Saudi Arabia is set to face penalties for their negligence and violation of basic Human Rights.
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