We won’t be silenced

The disappearance of Jamal
Khashoggi, the prominent Saudi journalist
and Washington Post contributor, has reverberated
among journalists, activists
and critics of authoritarianism all over
the world.

My first encounter with Jamal’s
writings was in 2011, year one of the
Arab Spring, in Al-Hayat, the Saudi
newspaper we both wrote for. In his
columns, he called for seizing the moment
and pushed for reforms within
Saudi Arabia. For his courageous
views, he was banned from writing
and tweeting for more than a year.

After declaring allegiance to the
new crown prince in his first tweet
after a year of silence, he was banned
again for good in September 2017 for
tweets deemed empathetic to the Muslim
Brotherhood, and for questioning
the arrests of some of the prominent
Saudi clerics and others that were
carried out that same month. Things
then escalated and resulted in
Khashoggi’s departure from Saudi
Arabia for fear of imprisonment.

I don’t know if it was fate or coincidence
that we were both given the
opportunity to voice our views in the
same newspaper again, this time The
Post. Finally, we could write uncensored.

The power of self-imposed exile
is that you can write openly without
fear of prosecution. Little did we know
that safety was still not guaranteed.

Jamal once emailed me a horrific
tweet sent to him after he openly
supported our #Women2Drive campaign.
The tweet wished that I run
over Jamal with my car, then crash into
a wall and die. This is how the world
would be relieved from Manal and
Jamal, it said.

Jamal, in his kindest words, advised
that I ignore such people and continue
driving safely. His support — at a time
when everyone else was silenced or
too scared to talk — meant everything
to me.

He wrote one of his most powerful
recent articles after attending the Oslo
Freedom Forum, where human rights
activists and dissidents from around
the globe are given a podium to tell
their stories. In the article, he questioned
whether it was still worth it to
speak up in this unjust world: “The
frustrating thing here is not only the
repetition and similarity of the stories,
as if the tyrants were settling in from
one poisoned well, but the indifference
of the world.”

Saudi dissidents living abroad have
long feared the overreach of the authorities.
There are reports of abductions
but no assassination yet, to the
best of my knowledge. It is all part of a
state-run plan to silence criticism of
the Saudi leadership.

In May, Nawaf Talal al-Rasheed, a
Saudi-Qatari poet, was arrested in Kuwait
and transferred to Saudi Arabia.
While Rasheed wasn’t involved in any
political activity, Saudi authorities
considered his influence a threat.

Loujain al-Hathloul, a prominent
activist and personal friend, was abducted
on a highway in the United
Arab Emirates and sent back to Saudi
Arabia. She has been in solitary confinement
with no sunlight or access to
lawyers. Her husband, Fahad
al-Butairi, was deported from Jordan
to Saudi Arabia as the only passenger
on a commercial airplane. He was
later pressured by the authorities to
divorce her.

Between September 2015 and February
2016, three Saudi princes living
abroad who engaged in peaceful political
activism against Riyadh were taken
against their will to Saudi Arabia. No
one has heard from them since.

As awful as all these incidents are,
the outcomes, while unclear, do not
appear to have ended in assassination.
This raises my hopes that Jamal, so
kind, intellectual and patriotic, has
not been murdered, as the story from
Turkish sources goes.

Jamal’s Twitter profile reads: “Say
your word and leave.” And as much as I
feel helpless and devastated now, he
would still want us to speak the truth.
We might all leave or disappear, but
our words against tyranny and injustice
can’t be abducted or locked up —
our truth will always be free and will
always stay.

Washington Post (United States)