“I never wanted to be labeled as an exiled dissident,” Jamal Khashoggi often tells me. When we meet in person or chat over WhatsApp, Jamal’s mission is very clear: He just wants to write and be a journalist. As his editor, I can say that what comes through in conversations with him is how honestly he loves Saudi Arabia and its people and feels that it is his duty to write what he sees to be the truth about the kingdom’s past, present and future.
It was in September 2017 that I reached out to him to write his first piece for The Post, in which he lamented that Saudi Arabia’s repression was becoming unbearable to the point of his decision to leave the country and live in exile in Washington. The piece drew considerable attention in Saudi Arabia and the wider region. It was the first piece we translated into Arabic in the Global Opinions section.
Almost a year since his first piece, we are extremely disturbed to have had no contact from Jamal since he was last seen visiting a Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on Tuesday. At the time of this writing, we have not been able to reach him. We have inquired about Jamal’s whereabouts, and expressed our deep concern, to both Turkish and Saudi officials.
The mystery surrounding Jamal’s whereabouts comes amid a wave of crackdowns on dissent and activism in Saudi Arabia under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Just this week, prominent Saudi economist and social media star Essam Al-Zamel was charged with terrorism for daring to criticize the kingdom’s economic plans. Beyond Saudi Arabia, the world is seeing an uptick in abuses and jailing of journalists. Jamal is one of the leading proponents of freedom and democratic change throughout the region, and he frequently denounces the harsh tactics deployed by the Saudi authorities against prominent clerics, business owners, female activists and social media figures. I ask him from time to time if he is okay, if he is feeling safe. He insists that he feels the need to write, despite the pressures from the Saudi authorities. For all the pieces that he has written to bring awareness to the plight of those who were improperly detained, today I am saddened to plead for his safe and swift return.
Whether he is writing about what Saudi Arabia can learn from “Black Panther,” or why the crown prince should take time to visit Detroit, or the parallels between the British and the Saudi royal families, what makes Jamal’s work unique is his keen desire to demystify Saudi Arabia for a global audience — and to connect the happenings in the kingdom to the wider world, in both English and his native Arabic. He is enthusiastic, hard-working and, perhaps most importantly, incredibly kind. As a journalist and editor, I learn so much from him and his experiences. I see him as not only a colleague in our field but an inspiration, too.
In fact, on the day of his disappearance, I was about to WhatsApp him to talk about ideas for his next op-ed in The Post.
Jamal, if you have a chance to read this, please know that we at The Post are actively seeking to ensure your safety and freedom. I won’t be able to rest easy until you appear safe and sound.