On 2 October 2018, Jamal Khashoggi, a dissident Saudi journalist and columnist for the Washington Post, entered the consulate of Saudi Arabia in Istanbul. He intended to marry his Turkish fiancée, and had come to collect papers confirming his divorce from his first wife. Instead, a hit team of 15 Saudis, who had arrived in the country earlier that day, were waiting for him. Khashoggi never left the consulate. Istanbul’s chief prosecutor said that the journalist had been chopped to pieces using a bone saw. An advisor to the Turkish president told the media that Khashoggi’s body had been dissolved in acid. The US Central Intelligence Agency concluded that the assassination had been ordered by Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, Mohammad bin Salman.
Later that month, I attended a hostile-environment training programme for journalists reporting from conflict-ridden West Asia and North Africa. My fellow participants were Arabs, from Kuwait, Tunisia, Iraq and Yemen. We were taught how to report on the constant bloodshed in the region, with an emphasis on life-saving skills.
“What do you do,” our instructor asked, “if you or your colleague has been severely injured in the limbs?”
“Tourniquet,” a Kuwaiti journalist sitting next to me quickly responded. She was right, even though she had never undergone first-aid training. However, having covered the region, especially the war in Yemen, for years, she was aware of the basics. “And what do we do if a government decides to chop us into pieces?” she asked.
She had struck a nerve. It was not that the attendees were not interested in what was being taught, but they were all wondering whether there was a protocol to save them from state-sponsored brutality. Arab journalists are used to the inherent dangers of reporting from this part of the world, but Khashoggi’s murder crossed a line—the impunity behind the act had left them enraged. However, in order to speak freely in the fraught environment in which they work, they requested anonymity, and that I not reveal where the training programme was held.