News • Interviews • Events

What Life Is Like In Saudi Arabia A Year After Jamal Khashoggi Was Killed

Middle East

Heard on All Things Considered 4-Minute Listen

NPR’s Mary Louise Kelly speaks with Susanne Koelbl, foreign correspondent for Der Spiegel, about the impact of Jamal Khashoggi’s death on Saudi Arabia.


The Washington Post has dedicated an entire section of today’s paper to Jamal Khashoggi, their columnist who was killed in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul exactly one year ago. A memorial was held outside that consulate today. Khashoggi’s fiancee Hatice Cengiz spoke and made clear this story is not over.


HATICE CENGIZ: I still seek justice. I want to know what happened to his body. I want his friends to be released from jail. I want that those in power are held accountable for their actions.

KELLY: Both the CIA and a United Nations investigation concluded that Saudi Arabia is responsible and that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was involved. To understand what effect Khashoggi’s death has had on the Saudi leadership and the country, we’re joined now by Susanne Koelbl of the German magazine Der Spiegel. Welcome.

SUSANNE KOELBL: Thank you for having me.

KELLY: You are recently back from a reporting trip to the kingdom. And I wonder to what extent did you find Jamal Khashoggi is still talked about there. I mean, what do people know about his story?

KOELBL: Honestly people try to avoid to talk about Jamal Khashoggi. They wish that this goes away and there is no discussion about it, especially don’t want to – criticized anymore from outside. And officials try to either justify it in the way that they would say things has happened, it was terrible, we have been – we have certainly no sympathy for that. But the responsible are taken to court, and the trial is ongoing, and our judiciary will deal with it correctly.

KELLY: And what about just ordinary people on the street? Are they keeping track of this?

KOELBL: They actually try not to because they say we have nothing to do, we are not political, we don’t want to be involved in this. And especially that they know it’s a dangerous topic.

KELLY: I want to focus us on the crown prince and the many ongoing questions about his role. He has denied personal involvement. I want to play a clip. He spoke recently and was fielding questions about this from CBS’s Norah O’Donnell.


NORAH O’DONNELL: Did you order the murder of Jamal Khashoggi?

MOHAMMAD BIN SALMAN: (Through interpreter) Absolutely not. This was a heinous crime. But I take full responsibility as a leader in Saudi Arabia, especially since it was committed by individuals working for the Saudi government.

KELLY: Susanne Koelbl, how is this being covered in the press? You nodded to – there is a trial taking place. There is an investigation. Is that being covered by the Saudi media?

KOELBL: Very little. Actually, almost not. I mean, everybody tries to make this case forgotten. And sometimes you have a note here and there, but only that things are going the right path.

KELLY: This may be a question that’s impossible to answer, but is there any sign that Mohammed bin Salman has learned anything from this episode, anything to suggest that the same tactics might not be deployed against another person seen as an enemy or an adversary somewhere down the road in the future?

KOELBL: I don’t see at all that anything changes here. And I think inside the kingdom, a lot of things are going on which are considered as unjust. And killings and murders might have taken place in the past and may take place as well now.

KELLY: Your reference there to other killings, you’re talking about other critics or people perceived as political enemies of the state, the consequences that they have suffered.

KOELBL: People are disappearing. I mean, critics are going to jail. People who have said or shared their opinions and views in the social media have been arrested, have been tortured. We don’t really know what happens to these people. But travelling in this country since many years and hearing what people say, it’s just happening, that people disappear and never come back.

KELLY: Susanne Koelbl, thanks very much.

KOELBL: You’re most welcome.

KELLY: She is a correspondent for Der Spiegel and author of the book “Beyond Veils And Walls: Life In Saudi Arabia Under Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman.”