The Dissident is a movie that you should see. We watched it in the Virgin Media DIFF (Dublin International Film Festival) which was streamed to our living room. You may be able to catch it online from Prime from April 1st.
It’s billed as the untold story of the murder that shook the world. It’s so much more than that. Director Bryan Fogel has crafted a new style of documentary and tells the story as if it was a fiction. His earlier film Icarus documented the story of Russian sports doping as a geopolitical thriller. The measure of the power of that innovation is that it won him an Oscar. I’d like to think that The Dissident is even better.
The film documents how Saudi author and dissident Jamal Khashoggi was murdered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. It turns out that the Turkish security services bug foreign embassies. And they released the surveillance-tape transcripts. Can we assume therefore that no embassy is secure and that all host governments are complicit if not sanctioning crimes within any embassy if they fail to release their bugged information? But that’s not the point of the movie.
The Saudis cooked some 30kg of meat the day Khashoggi was murdered, butchered and incinerated. It’s not clear that the state-sponsored murderers ate any of the meat they cooked. But that’s not the point either.
The Saudis assumed no one would challenge them. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman appears to be able to act with impunity. As has Vladimir Putin with Alexander Litvinenko, Sergei Skripal and probably Alexei Navalny. As did Trump with Qasem Soleimani. But that’s not the point either.
Jamal Khashoggi worked for the Washington Post and was murdered when he was called back to the consulate to collect a document. He had been a government employee that had become a mild critic of Saudi Arabia. His biggest crime may have been that his social media had more followers than Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. That’s the point for me – money becomes power and power foments arrogance. And perhaps Khashoggi was rash, thinking that he was secured by his journalism and followers.
I’m a member of Irish PEN/PEN na hÉireann and let me tell you that the horror story told in The Dissident is not as uncommon as you’d like to believe. The biggest irony in The Dissident is that Turkey is one of the biggest offenders on the planet. So much so that there’s a dedicated Wikipedia page: List of arrested journalists in Turkey