Missing Journalist Jamal Khashoggi Called For Freedom Of Speech In 'Last Piece'

The Washington Post writer said the lack of freedom of expression in Arab nations leaves people "uninformed."

Missing Journalist Jamal Khashoggi Called For Freedom Of Speech In 'Last Piece'

The Washington Post has published the last piece from missing Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was allegedly killed in Istanbul earlier this month. The column, which was published late Wednesday and can be read in full on The Post's website, argues the need for freedom of expression in the Arab world.

In a prefatory note, Post Global Opinions editor Karen Attiah wrote that she received the work the day after Khashoggi was first reporting missing in Istanbul. As she outlines, she "held off publishing it because we hoped Jamal would come back to us."

"Now I have to accept: That is not going to happen," she wrote. "This is the last piece of his I will edit for The Post. This column perfectly captures his commitment and passion for freedom in the Arab world. A freedom he apparently gave his life for."

In the piece, Khashoggi touched upon the solemn realization that, with the exception of Tunisia, no country in the Arab world is classified as completely free. This lack of free expression has left the people in Arab countries "either uninformed or misinformed," he wrote.

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"They are unable to adequately address, much less publicly discuss, matters that affect the region and their day-to-day lives. A state-run narrative dominates the public psyche, and while many do not believe it, a large majority of the population falls victim to this false narrative," the column reads. "Sadly, this situation is unlikely to change."

Khashoggi also recalled the hopefulness of the population during the Arab Spring in 2011. People expected to "be emancipated from the hegemony of their governments and the consistent interventions and censorship of information," he wrote. Instead, per the column, protests and armed rebellions were stifled, and many societies were punished with even harsher restrictions.

The column notes that governments in Arab nations have taken "free rein to continue silencing the media at an increasing rate," leading to the arrest of local reporters, blocked access to the Internet, and the shutdown of publications deemed to be harmful. Meanwhile, even countries classified as "free" or "partly free" limit their reporting to domestic issues, not the overlying problems of 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," Khashoggi wrote, also calling for a modern transitional media platform that would allow citizens to use their voice and stay informed about global events. 

The door to Saudi Arabia's consulate in Istanbul, where Khashoggi was last seen.  answer5 / Shutterstock.com

"The creation of an independent international forum, isolated from the influence of nationalist governments spreading hate through propaganda, ordinary people in the Arab world would be able to address the structural problems their societies face," he stated.

Khashoggi's words are particularly profound at a time when free speech continues to come under fire around the world. While Arab nations have some of the world's most imposing restrictions to free speech, many other countries also face restrictions to their freedom of expression— especially in the wake of the rise of social media. Officials in Turkey and India have arrested and threatened jail time to citizens accused of sharing controversial content online. China, Iran, and Vietnam regularly dictate what media coverage and have also limited or banned access to the Internet.

In recent years, America has also faced its own challenges to free speech under the administration of President Donald Trump. The president has frequently lobbied attacks against the press (repeatedly dubbing it "the enemy of the people") and is currently facing a lawsuit from the PEN American Center, a nonprofit association of writers and media officials. The suit states that while Trump is free to critique the press under the First Amendment, "he is not free to use the power and authority of the United States government to punish and stifle it."

What is believed to be Khashoggi's final column is a stand for global freedom of speech, which he has long advocated for. "I'm not an extremist….I believe in the system—I just want a reformed system," he told The Economist this summer. "Actually, I want the system to give me a voice to allow me to speak."           

Cover image via OZAN KOSE/AFP/Getty Images.

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