In a keynote speech at the Global Conference for Media Freedom in London on Wednesday, Hunt said governments acting together can “impose a diplomatic price” on states who kill or imprison journalists. Asked on the sidelines if he thought Saudi Arabia had paid a big enough price for its actions, he told TIME “I think they have. I think they have paid a big reputational price and there have been profound diplomatic consequences.”
Hunt, who is currently in a Conservative Party leadership contest to become the next U.K. prime minister, added that Saudi Arabia had more work to do to be fully welcomed back on the world stage, however.
“In the end, if things are going to get back to how they were before, there has to be proper accountability for what happened and the world needs to know two things,” he said. “That there has been justice not just for the people who committed that terrible crime but for the person who ordered it, and also that this kind of thing will never happen again.”
Khashoggi, a self-exiled critic of the Saudi regime, was murdered in gruesome circumstances in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October. In the immediate aftermath, the U.K. revoked the visas of suspects and boycotted a Saudi investment conference. The U.S. was one of several countries to place sanctions on Saudi citizens suspected of involvement in the killings.
But nine months later, the Trump Administration is still defying the U.S. Congress and pushing through arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the U.K. government is challenging a court-ordered ban on its own arms sales. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, whom the CIA accuses of ordering the Khashoggi killing, was reportedly greeted warmly by President Donald Trump at the recent G20 meeting in Japan. And next year, Saudi Arabia has been granted the right to host the economic summit.
Some believe the Saudis have been let off the hook. Amal Clooney, Hunt’s special envoy for media freedom, said during a session at the conference on Wednesday that world leaders responded to Khashoggi’s killing “with little more than a collective shrug.” Agnes Callamard, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, wrote recently that “there has been little effective international response—legal, political or diplomatic.” She called for G20 member states to boycott the November 2020 meeting in Riyadh.
Thomas Friang, head of advocacy at Reporters Without Borders, told TIME the G20 membership proved the Saudis “have not paid a price diplomatically.” The global press freedom organization announced this week that members had travelled to Saudi Arabia earlier in the year to urge the release of 30 journalists still in jail. “That’s the minimum price they should pay to be regarded a normal chair of the G20,” said Friang, also on the sidelines of the conference.
Asked during a session on Wednesday whether countries should boycott the G20, conference co-host and Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freedland said it wasn’t appropriate because the grouping was not created to reflect shared values. The collective was “brought together so the world’s largest economies had a forum where they could meet,” she said. “There are other countries at the G20 that Canada has serious concerns about.”
Clooney also had some harsh words for Trump at the two-day conference, saying the U.S. leader “vilifies the media, making honest journalists all over the world more susceptible to abuse.” Hunt would not tell TIME if he disagreed with that assessment from his envoy. “This is a conference on media freedom, so everyone is going to express their views … [Some] people are going to criticize what President Trump does, or says, or tweets, which he is going to defend. So you can’t have a conference like this without people being free to say what they think.”
At least 60 foreign ministers joined NGO representatives, academics and journalists at the Global Conference for Media Freedom on Tuesday and Wednesday. Not present was U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Hunt said his American counterpart had been unable to attend. “He’s the busiest Secretary of State in the world,” he said. “We understand he can’t come to everything.”
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