The Dissident

This powerful documentary tells the story of events leading up to and following the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at his country’s consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, in October 2018. 

There’s not much that we didn’t already know about the murder itself, the details of which are told in horrific, graphic detail although we are spared the sound of Khashoggi’s desperate pleas and his dying struggles as the Saudi hitmen strangle and suffocate him to death over a period of 7 and a half minutes before cutting up his body with a bonesaw, occasionally laughing about what they are doing, while his devoted fiancé waited outside for a full ten hours.    

Khashoggi’s fiance, Hatice Cengiz

I knew that the whole grisly episode had been recorded, but hadn’t previously thought about how or why.  It seems the Turkish police had the consulate bugged, and just as well they did because the Saudis refused to allow investigators in until they could get remove the body and get rid of evidence.  But the Turkish police did a pretty good job and it was they who made the tapes public. 

The film brings these damning facts into sharp focus, and goes on to relate in scary detail the efforts of the Saudis to cover up the crime, which included a sophisticated social media campaign to discredit supporters and friends of Khashoggi, one of whom is Saudi activist and videoblogger Omar Abdulaziz, who features as one of the main storytellers, and who now lives in fear in Toronto while the Saudis keep two of his brothers and 22 of his friends in detention for no reason at all other than to pressure him into silence. 

I didn’t know about him, and nor did I know about growing suspicions that the Saudis were behind the hacking of Jeff Bezos’ phone, which led to revelations of personal behaviour which in turn led to his divorce.  They did it because Bezos, owner of The Washington Post, wouldn’t lean on its reporters to stop investigating the Khashoggi murder. 

As one talking head observes in the documentary, if they can go for the richest man in the world, they can go for anyone. 

‘They’ are the Saudi royal family, and specifically the kingdom’s current ruler, Mohammed Bin Salman or MBS as he is widely known.  Once the world’s human rights darling for decreeing that women at long last be allowed to drive, his role in this cruel killing has been unarguably established and his moral reputation forever stained by it. 

Does he care?  Has he got away with it?  And was it worth the global opprobrium just to get rid of a man who wasn’t a particularly dangerous critic in the first place?  The film relates how, despite the creditable efforts of some American politicians to bring down punitive sanctions, the rich and powerful have not been able to bring themselves to cast him out.  Donald Trump vetoed a proposed ban on weapons sales, and MBS is still welcomed at the Davos leadership summit.

The Dissident may be a bit depressing in what it reveals about money and power, but it also presents uplifting stories of love and friendship, and a cogent case, if one were needed, for the necessity of a free media.  It also uses imaginative graphics to illustrate, for example, the Twitter war of the bees (the goodies) and the flies (the baddies). 

Post-screening googling reveals that the Saudis have tried to rubbish The Dissident by trolling it on Rotten Tomatoes.  Go and see it, post a positive review and strike a blow for truth and justice!