Journalists around the world are increasingly fair game these days at the hands of their autocratic governments — or at the hands of just plain thugs. And President Trump’s assaults on journalists as “the enemy of the people” are surely exacerbating the problem.
The latest case in point is the mysterious disappearance of Saudi dissident and journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul Oct. 2 to obtain a document in advance of his upcoming wedding to his Turkish fiancé and hasn’t been heard from since. Khashoggi, a contributing columnist to The Washington Post, has been a frequent critic of the Saudi government.
Now Turkey — itself consistently among the world’s leading jailers of journalists — has at least stepped up to demand the “full cooperation” of Saudi consular officials in the investigation. And while a surveillance photo has surfaced of Khashoggi entering the consulate, Saudi officials have offered no visual evidence of his ever having exited.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has also issued a statement calling on the Saudis to support “a thorough investigation” and to be “transparent” about its results.
Meanwhile the body of Bulgarian journalist Viktoria Marinova was discovered in a park there over the weekend. The fact that Bulgaria ranks 111 out of 180 on the press freedom index of Reporters Without Borders led many to speculate that her brutal murder was no random crime. Her recently launched TV talk show has given a new voice to investigative journalists who are reporting on the rampant corruption in that country.
Earlier in the year reporters in two other European Union countries, Malta and Slovakia, were killed, targeted for their investigative reporting on government corruption
In Myanmar recently, two Reuters journalists were sentenced to seven years in prison for what government officials insist was the illegal possession of official documents. The two reporters had been covering the brutal crackdown on the Rohingya minority in that country.
Egypt has a new law that allows its media regulatory agency to block any online news or social media site that is charged with engaging in “fake news” or is deemed a threat to national security. Among the 500 sites already blocked were two belonging to a former board member of the Journalists’ Union.
On Tuesday, David Kaye, the UN special rapporteur for freedom of expression, in an interview with the Associated Press decried the “global epidemic” of the stigmatization of journalists. “Whether it’s the United States and Donald Trump calling them ‘the enemy of the people’ or it’s [President] Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines doing much the same thing . . . journalists are under threat.”
American journalists are still, relatively speaking, the lucky ones — beneficiaries of the First Amendment and of an independent judiciary committed to uphold and enforce it.
But words do matter. They matter to autocrats around the globe who now feel newly empowered to disparage, imprison, block, or even perhaps slaughter those journalists committed to telling the hard truths about the regimes they cover.
Jamal Khashoggi may be the latest victim of that “autocrats unleashed” syndrome. And the Trump administration owes him — and those who love him — more than empty words in determining his fate.
But beyond that, the world must know that this continuing abrogation of American values coming from the Oval Office is not who we as a people are. We as journalists and as citizens will continue to espouse the same freedoms — and protections — for our colleagues around the world as we enjoy here.