The Straits Times says

When a sword is used against the pen

The killing of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul is a terrible indictment of governments and those in power who attempt to silence those who use the pen to tell stories to the world. This is a case of a journalist, committed to the cause of freedom and openness in his country, who came up against entrenched interests and paid with his life for having defied them in his writings. What is becoming increasingly clear in the twists and turns of the official accounts from the Saudi Arabian government is the unbelievable abuse of power that caused Mr Khashoggi's death. From initial denials of his death, to then saying that he had died during a brawl at the consulate, the official narrative now attributes his death to a choke hold, with the Saudi Foreign Minister calling it "murder" committed during a rogue operation. The latest classification aims to absolve Saudi Arabia's rulers and government of any knowledge or involvement in an illegal plan to kill Mr Khashoggi. While that absence of culpability might indeed be true, the question arises of how the rogues involved planned and executed such an outrageous operation in a state known for the rigour of its political and administrative systems, before executing it in Turkey. In the interests of its own credibility, Riyadh must come clean on the full details of a killing that occurred in its diplomatic premises. Its relations have frayed with Turkey, which has been saddled with the unwanted responsibility of managing the international fallout from a high-profile case with apparent political characteristics. The guilty must be tried publicly and sentenced accordingly.

What is at stake is Saudi Arabia's reputation in a world where many countries do not take easily to journalists being murdered for doing their job. The lack of answers initially and the slow trickle of disclosures since then have been disappointing, to say the least. Western allies have shown their displeasure. United States President Donald Trump has accused Saudi Arabia of lying and sent Central Intelligence Agency director Gina Haspel to review evidence, Germany halted arms exports, and Canada threatened to cancel a multibillion-dollar defence contract. The kingdom still enjoys support from several regional allies. And while international politicians and business chiefs boycotted a Saudi investment conference over Mr Khashoggi's killing, that did not stop deals to the tune of US$50 billion (S$69 billion) from being signed on Tuesday, the opening day. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 28 journalists, including Mr Khashoggi, have been murdered so far this year. They make up the majority of the 45 journalists killed - the others died on dangerous assignments or while covering conflicts. While the death of a journalist is tragic in any violent circumstance, wilful murder of those who do the job is unacceptable.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 25, 2018, with the headline 'When a sword is used against the pen'. Print Edition | Subscribe