Amal Clooney decries ‘collective shrug’ over slain journalist Khashoggi

Human rights lawyer Amal Clooney accused world leaders Wednesday of failing to protect journalists and decried their “collective shrug” over the slaying of Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi.

Clooney, the British government’s envoy on media freedom, said at a conference in London on freedom of the press that “journalists are under attack like never before,” not just while covering wars, but for exposing crime and corruption.

“The vast majority of these murders go unpunished,” she said, adding “world leaders responded with little more than a collective shrug” to Khashoggi’s killing by agents close to the Saudi crown prince.

The Washington Post columnist was killed inside the Saudi Arabian Consulate in Istanbul last year.

According to the United Nations cultural body UNESCO, 99 media workers were killed worldwide in 2018.

Clooney also took aim at U.S. President Donald Trump. She said “the country of James Madison” — one of America’s founding fathers and a champion of a free press — “has a leader today who vilifies the media.”

Clooney spoke at the opening day of a two-day conference initiated by U.K. Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt and Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland.

Politicians, officials, activists and journalists from more than 100 countries were taking part — though two Russian news outlets have been banned. The British government says Sputnik and RT are barred because of “their active role in spreading disinformation.”

British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, left, and Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland are hosting a two-day conference in London with politicians, officials, activists and journalists from more than 100 countries. (Andrew Yates/Reuters, Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Russian state-owned RT was censured last year by Britain’s broadcast regulator for breaking British impartiality rules in its coverage of the poisoning of a Russian ex-spy in England.

RT, formerly known as Russia Today, said: “It takes a particular brand of hypocrisy to advocate for freedom of press while banning inconvenient voices and slandering alternative media.”

In a pair of tweets, Freeland said Canada and Britain “share a commitment to democracy, human rights, and a free press around the world” and also thanked Hunt for his calls for a pair of Canadians detained in China to be released.

Hunt, meanwhile  told the attendees that media freedom is “not a Western value but a universal value.” He said repression of the press and corruption go hand in hand, and “at its best, a free media both protects society from the abuse of power and helps release the full potential of a nation.”

“The strongest safeguard against the dark side of power is accountability and scrutiny,” he said.

Organizers have not released a list of participants, but say delegations are expected from nations with dire records on press freedom such as Saudi Arabia and Turkey.

Hunt also criticized Trump’s verbal attacks on journalists. The U.S. president has branded them as enemies of the people.

“I wouldn’t use the language President Trump used, and I wouldn’t agree with it,” he said. “We have to remember that what we say can have an impact in other countries where they can’t take press freedom for granted.”

Hatice Cengiz, the fiancée of murdered Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, is still searching for answers and is asking the government of Canada for support. 0:56

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