Watchdog Pushes U.S. to Publish ‘Duty to Warn’ Khashoggi Files

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Press Freedom

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) seeks disclosure of files under the U.S. intelligence community’s “duty to warn” obligations, which demand officials alert folks in imminent danger. The CPJ wants to know if they knew about an assassination plot against Jamal Khashoggi. Photo by Sam McGhee on Unsplash

UNITED NATIONS, Sep 30 2019 (IPS) A media watchdog has asked United States intelligence agencies to reveal whether they knew about an assassination plot against Jamal Khashoggi and failed to warn the Saudi journalist he was in mortal danger.

A legal brief, filed in a Washington DC district court by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), comes almost exactly one year after a Saudi hit squad butchered the renegade writer inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2.

CPJ’s advocacy manager Michael DeDora told IPS that his lawsuit against the U.S. government “asks a simple question: did the intelligence community know of yet fail to warn Jamal Khashoggi of threats to his life?”

Khashoggi, a U.S.-based Washington Post columnist, who was once a royal Saudi insider and had grown critical of the regime, was reportedly lured to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in an elaborate and brutal plot to silence him.

Khashoggi was allegedly killed, dismembered and removed from the building; his remains were never found. The CIA reportedly assessed that crown prince Mohammad bin Salman, known as MBS, had ordered the operation.

The CPJ seeks disclosure of files under the U.S. intelligence community’s “duty to warn” obligations, which demand officials alert folks in imminent danger. The brief, filed Thursday, follows the Trump administration’s rejection of a previous CPJ disclosure request.

“Nearly one year after Khashoggi’s murder, disclosure of these documents would provide transparency and help efforts to secure accountability,” DeDora told IPS in an email.

“But this lawsuit has broader implications: journalists around the world should have the security of knowing that the U.S. will not ignore threats to their lives.” 

Khashoggi’s assassination sparked global outrage, blighted MBS’ global standing and undercut his ambitions to improve the kingdom’s poor human rights record and diversify its economy away from hydrocarbons. 

Saudi officials, who initially said Khashoggi had left the consulate unharmed, now say he was killed in a rogue operation that did not involve the prince. A domestic Saudi trial of 11 suspects is widely viewed as a sham.

Speaking with IPS among a small group of journalists in New York this month, Hatice Cengiz, Khashoggi’s former fiancée, explained how she was saddened by the lack of global pressure on Riyadh to come clean about the affair.

MBS has not visited Europe or the U.S. since the murder. While the prince was briefly shunned by foreign leaders, Riyadh’s long-standing diplomatic support from the U.S., Britain and others has largely resumed.

“This silence and inertia created huge disappointment on my side,” said Cengiz. 

“Countries could have demonstrated a more honourable attitude instead of remaining silent, particularly the United Nations, the European Union and the five members of the U.N. Security Council.”

Cengiz was joined at an event on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly by Agnes Callamard, the U.N. rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions who investigated the killing and concluded it was a “deliberate, premeditated execution,” and called for MBS and other officials to be probed.

Callamard, a French academic, said she knew that achieving justice for Khashoggi’s murder would be an uphill struggle, given Riyadh’s deep pockets, clout in the world energy markets and powerful friends in Washington, London and elsewhere.

“This single year [since Khashoggi’s death] is just the first phase in our journey for accountability and justice. And that means that it will demand and deserve patience, resilience, and time,” said Callamard.

“Early on, I could see that justice for Jamal Khashoggi would have to be found beyond the usual path and beyond our usual understanding of accountability.”

Callamard urged the CIA to publish its files, while also calling for an FBI investigation and a public inquest in Turkey. Meanwhile, a draft U.S. law on human rights and accountability, if enacted, would unmask and sanction the culprits and send “ripple effects” towards accountability around the world.


No Story Worth Dying For?

Active Citizens, Civil Society, Conferences, Editors’ Choice, Featured, Headlines, TerraViva United Nations

Civil Society

This article is part of a series on the current state of civil society organisations (CSOs), which will be the focus of International Civil Society Week (ICSW), sponsored by CIVICUS, and scheduled to take place in Belgrade, April 8-12.

Infringements of press freedom and the targeting of journalists is one of the topics being discussed at the International Civil Society Week (ICSW 2019) – an annual gathering of civil society leaders, activists and engaged citizens taking place in the Serbian capital Apr. 8-12. Courtesy: CIVICUS

BELGRADE, Apr 11 2019 (IPS) – “Stay safe. There’s no story worth dying for.”
That’s the message to journalists from Nada Josimovic, programme coordinator of Amsterdam-based media rights organisation Free Press Unlimited.

Most journalists would agree with her. But beyond the threat of physical harm, women reporters and journalists of colour run another risk: being harassed online, with the spouting of sexist and racist venom.

This, of course, happens to rights defenders as well, all over the world. But in the case of women, the harassment is “sexualised … sometimes with threats of rape,” said Josimovic.

“How does one protect oneself?” she asked, during a panel discussion on press freedom at International Civil Society Week (ICSW 2019) – an annual gathering of civil society leaders, activists and engaged citizens taking place in the Serbian capital Apr. 8-12.

Co-hosted by the Johannesburg-based global civil society alliance CIVICUS, the meeting is focusing on a range of issues that include infringements of press freedom and the targeting of journalists.

As the event took place, news surrounding the deaths of media workers continued. On Apr. 11, the Director-General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), Audrey Azoulay, issued a statement condemning the killing of a sports reporter in the north-western Mexican town of Salvador Alvarado on Mar. 24.

“I condemn the killing of Omar Iván Camacho Mascareño,” stated Azoulay. “I trust the investigation underway will enable the authorities to bring the perpetrator of this crime to justice.”

Mascareño, of local radio broadcaster Chavez Radiocast, was found dead with signs of severe head trauma and injuries indicating that he had been beaten to death, according to media reports.
UNESCO issues its “condemnations” on a regular basis, given the frequency of attacks.

The UN agency has the mandate to promote the safety of journalists and does so “through global awareness-raising, capacity building and a range of actions, notably the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity”, according to the organisation.

This includes a module on Combatting Online Abuse: When Journalists and Their Sources are Targeted, but Josimovic and others stress that enough isn’t being done to end the specific harassment of women journalists.

“I think that media outlets don’t have good support systems for this kind of attacks,” she told IPS. “The legal aspect is also complicated.”

Social media companies, for instance, will not reveal the address of the perpetrators when the targeted individual complains, she said. Additionally, there is sometimes a lack of solidarity from editors and colleagues who have never experienced the harassment.

“Because it’s not happening in the real world, people kind of minimise the effect,” she added. “But women in general face more harassment on-line. In every sector, it’s there.”

Anyone who has doubts about this has only to look at some of the reports via the International Women’s Media Foundation, she said.

Rights activists say that broad coalitions were needed to promote the protection of rights and that journalists and human rights advocates need to work together. Courtesy: CIVICUS

Because of the similarity in methods used to attack rights defenders globally, press freedom groups and civil society organisations should increase ways of working together, said some delegates at the ICSW meeting.

Vukasin Petrovic, senior director for programme strategy at Washington DC-based rights monitoring organisation Freedom House, said that broad coalitions were needed to promote the protection of rights.

“Journalists and human rights advocates are the centrepiece of any strategy,” he told IPS. “The protection of freedom of expression and freedom of assembly are in the interests of both.”

Responding to a question about required journalistic “distance” and impartiality, he acknowledged that sometimes the relationship between the media and civil society can become too close.

“We do need transparency and accountability on all sides,” he said. “But building coalitions can make advocacy more powerful.”

For Dragan Sekulovski, executive director of the Association of Journalists of Macedonia – a country that’s “a champion when it comes to wiretapping” – part of the defence of media needs to come from the sector itself.

That includes promoting quality journalism and “leaving this to the audience to judge”, he said. In this way, public opinion may swing in favour of the media, helping to deter attacks and harassment.

“Quality” journalism requires resources, however, and as various media groups point out, the sector has been ravaged over the past years by job losses, low pay, copyright abuses and other ills.

This is compounded by declining public trust – because of a range of factors, including smear campaigns, accusations of purveying “fake news”, journalists’ own behaviour, and, of course, calling media “the enemy of the people” as American President Donald Trump has done.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, many of Trump’s tweets so far as president has “insulted or criticised journalists and outlets, or condemned and denigrated the news media as a whole”.

It has thus become an uphill battle to get some sections of the public to see the importance of journalists’ work, and to engage actively in protecting media freedom, said activists at the ICSW meeting.

“Media organisations need to engage with citizens to make them understand why (citizens) need them,” said Josimovic.

Whether this would stop the attacks and harassment, especially of women journalists, is anyone’s guess. The issue will no doubt be raised again during discussions May 1-3, when the “main celebration” of UNESCO’s World Press Freedom Day takes place in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.