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Opinions of Sunday, 21 October 2018

Columnist: Ras Mubarak

Jamal Khashoggi and the threats to journalists

The job of journalists all over the world, has gotten more dangerous than we thought, in spite of democratisation across the globe. There seem to be a rise in state-sponsored assassinations. In Europe for example, we have had three killings of journalists over the last year. A journalist who led the Panama Papers investigation into corruption in Malta - Daphne Caruana Galizia - was blown up by a car bomb near her home in October 2017.

In March this year, a 27year old Slovak investigative journalist - Ján Kuciak, and his fiancee were killed at their home outside Bratislava. He was shot twice in the chest while his fiancee was shot in the head.

In Bulgaria, a popular investigative reporter was raped and murdered, though it is still unclear if her murder was related to her work.

But all of these people were investigating corruption or had done some corruption-related stories when they were killed.

And just when we thought we had seen enough of targeted killing of journalists, a Saudi dissident journalist, who worked for the Washington Post newspaper was tortured to death.

Jamal Khashoggi had gone into the Saudi Arabia consulate in Istanbul for some paperwork but ended up being murdered on foreign soil by his own countrymen.

After days of denials, the Saudis finally admitted he died inside their consulate in what they called "after a fist- fight." We don't know for sure how this unfortunate man died, but the Turks, through state and private run media, say, there's a very gruesome recording which talks about Khashoggi's fingers chopped off while he was alive, and him being dismembered - horrendous things.

The Saudis have murdered a journalist on foreign soil, they have attempted to talk it away. But the world must not just reject this official line about a botched operation. We must ensure that nations like Saudi Arabia, individuals and corporations that attack journalists pay a high price.

Usually, where things like targeting journalists or dissidents have happened, those who are behind it have been very smarter and surreptitious - either passing on the job to a hit squad or using people with no visible links to the government.

This one by the Saudis is so blatant and reckless, and could not in any way have happened without clearance from "above." Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy and it's hard to imagine a thing like this would happen without the Crown Prince knowing about it.

The Saudis probably sought to send a strong message about what they can do to journalists who want to push beyond boundaries, but they got it wrong. We no longer live in the black and white era, we live in a completely different world from yesteryear and things like the horrendous murder of Jamal Khashoggi, or the blowing up of Daphne Galizia can't be swept under the rug.

As a Sunni Muslim, I feel extremely pained and embarrassed, but not surprised. You have in Saudi Arabia an inept and hot-headed Crown Prince. The war he's wagging in Yemen has nearly half the country's 28 million civilians at the "risk of dying from the lack of food" according to the UN humanitarian co-ordinator - Lise Grande.

The unthinkable manner in which they killed Khashoggi is a test case for the world. International morality is put to a test and how the world responds to such brazen barbarity would determine our seriousness about not just protecting the rights of journalists to do their work but our interest in restoring international morality, rule of law and our common humanity.

What has happened is unacceptable. The world has to show that it frowns upon such behaviour, otherwise rogue nations would continue thinking it is okay to cause journalists to die in freak accidents, shoot journalists or, as happened in recently, to chop off the hands of journalists, dismember them or plant bombs in their cars.

I am particularly surprised by the slow response to this big story by local media and the failure and or aloofness of the Ghana Journalists Association to issue a statement. The media can do something about it by highlighting things like that. An attack on any journalist anywhere in the world is an attack on us all.