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Jamal Khashoggi, the missing Washington Post columnist who was allegedly murdered by a Saudi government-backed hit squad in the country's consulate in Turkey, warned of Arab governments' efforts to quash free expression in what is apparently his final piece for the newspaper.
"Arab governments have been given free rein to continue silencing the media at an increasing rate," Khashoggi wrote in the column, which was sent to the Post by his translator a day after he was reported missing in October.
Khashoggi, a critic of the Saudi royal family who had been in self-imposed exile in the U.S., reportedly entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2 to pick up a document for his wedding. He was never seen outside the building again, and Turkish officials say they have audio recordings proving he was murdered and dismembered by a team of 15 Saudi agents.
In his column, Khashoggi lamented the lack of an adequate international response in cases where journalists or media outlets have been stifled by Arab governments.
"These actions no longer carry the consequence of a backlash from the international community. Instead, these actions may trigger condemnation quickly followed by silence," Khashoggi wrote.
The Saudi government maintains that Khashoggi left the consulate shortly after he entered. But multiple news outlets, citing sources familiar with the matter, reported that the kingdom is currently preparing a report that will admit Khashoggi was accidentally killed during an interrogation gone wrong. That report, which may still change, will aim to distance the Saudi royal family from culpability, according to news outlets.
The New York Times reported Wednesday that U.S. spy agencies are "increasingly convinced" that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who has ties to some of the suspected killers, bears some responsibility in the alleged murder.
But President Donald Trump has signaled that he is not yet on board with the criticisms leveled against Saudi Arabia by the media, Congress and the international community.
"Here we go again with you're guilty until proven innocent," Trump said Tuesday in an interview with The Associated Press. He compared the allegations against the Saudis to multiple sexual misconduct allegations made against Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh during his confirmation process.
Observers say Trump is reluctant to condemn the Saudis because of his own business ties to them. "Saudi Arabia, I get along with all of them. They buy apartments from me. They spend $40 million, $50 million," Trump said during a presidential campaign rally in Alabama in August 2015.
He denied having financial interests in Saudi Arabia in a tweet Wednesday.
The president sent Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to Saudi Arabia on Wednesday to speak with King Salman about Khashoggi's case. In a statement that day, Pompeo said, "During each of today's meetings the Saudi leadership strongly denied any knowledge of what took place in their consulate in Istanbul."
Khashoggi's column, published by the Post on Wednesday night, said that "domestic forces vying for power" in Arab countries have created a version of the "Iron Curtain," the metaphorical barrier isolating the former Soviet Union during the Cold War.
To counteract the authoritarian trends, Khashoggi said Arabs should be given ways to consume more international media in order to be informed about global events.
"Arabs living in these countries are either uninformed or misinformed," he wrote. "They are unable to adequately address, much less publicly discuss, matters that affect the region and their day-to-day lives. A state-run narrative dominates the public psyche, and while many do not believe it, a large majority of the population falls victim to this false narrative. Sadly, this situation is unlikely to change."