Now this week the Saudis have put forth the closing act in their clown show of justice, handing down “final verdicts” in Jamal’s murder case. Eight unnamed defendants have been sentenced to prison terms of up to 20 years. Earlier this year, Jamal’s children pardoned the unknown men, sparing them from facing the death penalty.
Little of this two-year-long pageant of impunity could have been possible without the support and blessing of the Trump administration. Just last week, Jared Kushner visited Riyadh to meet with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the man the CIA believes was responsible for the gruesome murder.
MBS’s tactics to move past Jamal’s murder have been as predictable as they are unsurprising. But what has been more detrimental and shocking — yes, even this year and with this administration — is that the United States has lost an incredible amount of moral authority on the world stage when it comes to respecting the life and freedom of journalists.
There was a reason I and many others fought so hard for Jamal. His case was a litmus test of how far the United States was willing to go to protect not only press freedoms but ultimately human life.
But so far this year we have seen journalists in our streets being teargassed, arrested or even blinded by rubber bullets coming from police forces. At least 186,000 Americans have died from the coronavirus, to which Trump blithely responds, “It is what it is.” The pessimist in me wonders: If America can tolerate the targeting of our own journalists and the needless deaths of our own people, why should Saudi Arabia, or any other country, look to the United States as a moral authority on human rights, press freedom and pandemic response.
Of course, they can always count on corporate America.
After Jamal’s murder, Wall Street and Silicon Valley tried to distance themselves from the Saudi regime. But that’s over. The end of 2019 saw scores of celebrities and Instagram influencers flying to Riyadh for a music festival. In the earlier quarter of 2020, Saudi Arabia bought billions of dollars worth of shares in U.S. companies, including Facebook, Walt Disney, Carnival and Live Nation. In June, Amazon launched a shopping website in Saudi Arabia. (Amazon founder and chief executive Jeff Bezos owns The Post.) Getting away with murder Saudi-style means business deals have been heating up, just as Jamal’s case grows cold.
The way the Saudis have handled the case sends a frightening message to many of the Saudi reformers who are languishing — and in some cases dying — in Saudi Arabia’s jails.
Earlier this year, the dissident and intellectual Abdullah al-Hamid, a man Jamal called the “Nelson Mandela of Saudi Arabia” for his commitment to democratic reforms and freedoms, died in a Saudi prison. Saleh al-Shehi, another Saudi columnist and friend of Jamal’s, died this year of mysterious circumstances after his release from a Saudi prison. The women’s rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul remains in a Saudi jail two years after her detention, and the influential Saudi cleric Salman al-Awda remains on the Saudi equivalent of death row for criticizing the monarchy. Jamal wrote in defense of all these figures, and it is imperative that their cases, and those of so many others, should not be forgotten.
There may still be hope to hold Saudi Arabia accountable. Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden said during a debate last year that he believed Khashoggi was murdered on the orders of MBS, adding that there was “little social redeeming value in the present government.” Biden added he would “make it very clear we were not going to, in fact, sell more weapons to them, we were going to, in fact, make them pay the price and make them, in fact, the pariah that they are.”
It’s up to Americans, and fellow journalists, to remind Biden of that promise. It may be the best way to prevent MBS from letting the curtain close on Jamal’s murder and his silencing of so many other Saudi human rights defenders.