Sri Lanka condemns Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s brutal murder | Sunday Observer

Sri Lanka condemns Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s brutal murder

Jamal Khashoggi
Jamal Khashoggi

The brutal killing of Saudi Arabian journalist and columnist for The Washington Post, Jamal Khashoggi, within the country’s embassy in Turkey on October 2, has left the world reeling in shock and disbelief. In a world where silencing the media through various means - at times even through death perpetrated by governments and others with vested interests - are a common occurrence. His murder, however, has been declared as one of the most heinous acts of media suppression in recent times. To Sri Lankan journalists after having lived through similar experiences Khashoggi’s sudden disappearance and brutal death was a stark reminder of that dark past. So were the denials by the Saudi government and loose claims of rogue agents and a fist fight gone wrong being the cause of his death.

As protests took place the world over before Saudi’s embassies in a number of countries, demanding to know the identities of his killers and justice for Jamal Khashoggi, protesters in the United Kingdom and the United States were seen pressing their governments to stop selling arms to the tainted Middle Eastern country.

In Sri Lanka this week, though far removed from the international and diplomatic tussles following Khashoggi’s death, groups of media personnel,activists, civil society groups and even artistes on Wednesday gathered opposite the Saudi Arabian Embassy on Horton Place, Colombo to make their voice of dissent heard against this cruel act. The protest was organised by Freddie Gamage, the Convenor of the Professional Web Journalist’s Association (PWJA) who is no stranger to intimidation and media suppression having faced several attacks in the past. According to him the past experiences and the latest news of Khashoggi’s death have now deeply distressed local media personnel.

‘It is unbelievable that such as inhumane and disgraceful killing can happen within the walls of a consular office but now the world has come to that as well,’ he said. Pointing out that the Saudi government in recent times has harassed and even imprisoned several media personnel, Gamage says the protest was launched by Sri Lankan journalists and media persons who understand and value media freedom.

While those gathered held placards demanding justice for the slain international journalist, they also remembered the Sri Lankan journalists who suffered the same fate. ‘Back then Kings without crowns killed 44 of our journalists, today those with crowns have killed Jamal’ one placard read. ‘44 of us who tried to tell the truth to the world lost their lives,’ Gamage said, adding that even now investigations are being conducted only regarding the killings or disappearances of just a few journalists. ‘That is why we are here today to protest against the killing of yet another journalist although he is not from our country,’ Gamage said.

Also joining in the protest was Executive Director of the Centre for Policy Alternatives, Dr Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu who labelled the killing of Khashoggi as ‘Barbaric’. According to him the complicity of the Saudi government in the incident must be exposed to the world. Saravanamuttu says ‘at a time where the world appears to be moving towards a trend of authoritarianism, those who believe in dissent and plurality needs to stand up and made their voices heard.

Though some have questioned the futility of the protest by local journalists Saravanamuttu noted that it is a sad period for everyone in the world as freedom of speech is a fundamental right and any attempt to suppress it must be exposed.

Anti-War artiste and activist Chandraguptha Thenuwara had also taken time off his schedule to show his support for local journalists on the day.

According to the outspoken Thenuwara journalists are often the voice of the people and it is important to protect them. ‘I am against any such killings here or abroad,’ Thenuwara said explaining his decision to attend the protest.

Thenuwara says a suppressed media will only lead to an undemocratic rule in a society. ‘That is why as a civilian and an artist who has always been against tyranny and oppression it was important for me to be present here,’ he said.

‘The killed, abducted and attacked media personnel back in their day’ he recalled. Thenuwara stressed that such a culture cannot return to Sri Lanka and the local media already understands the threats looming over them.

‘That is another reason that has brought them here today,’ he said.

According to Thenuwara, therefore, it is important that even the media voice their dissent against suppression, occurring anywhere in the world.

In fact prior to his death in the last unpublished column written by him, Khashoggi had claimed what the Arab world currently needs most is the freedom of speech noting how the ‘Freedom in the World 2018’ report by Freedom House classified Saudi Arabia as a country with no freedom.

While his continuous dissent, activism and criticism maybe have brought about his gruesome death leaving the world outraged, foreign media reports claimed that the outcry over the incident and diplomatic furor apparently had Prince Salman confused.

With foreign reports also now claiming that the fiasco could lead to a new crown prince being declared, (although not immediately), it perhaps only goes to show media or the suppression of freedom of speech is not taken lightly internationally, while complacent attitudes to killings of journalists are a thing of the past.