The murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi has put a strain on political and economic relations between Saudi Arabia and the west.
On Sunday, word came that the CIA blamed Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for the murder, with sources close to the agency saying that it had assessed the evidence in detail.
The Kingdom yet again denied any involvement in the death. President Donald Trump said that the CIA’s assessment was “premature” and that there was “no reason” for him to listen to an audio recording purportedly of Khashoggi’s murder.
Trump’s reluctance to listen to the tape doesn’t come from squeamishness – it may instead come from wanting to protect lucrative business ties with the country.
In 2017 alone, Trump and King Salman signed a near-$110bn defence package, and the US President is mindful that Saudi Arabia has a powerful weapon in its influence: oil prices.
Whether the CIA’s full report leads to any schism in political and economic relations between western nations and Saudi Arabia is debatable; the murder and mistreatment of journalists hasn’t bothered some western governments that much before.
There are numerous examples of journalists being assaulted or imprisoned, missing or murdered all over the world.
While many journalists’ deaths occur in times of civil unrest and conflict during the dangerous process of reporting, others take place in nominally peaceful and prosperous times.
The common denominator in these incidents is that they tend to come after a reporter has investigated and exposed wrongdoing, or has criticised those in positions of power and influence.
And just as we’ve seen in the investigation into Khashoggi’s murder, there is often uncomfortable evidence that links top officials to these deaths.
In India, Russia, and China – top trading partners of western nations – being a journalist is one of the most dangerous vocations you can pursue.
In Russia, 38 journalists have been murdered between 1992 and 2018, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. In India, 34 journalists have been murdered in the same time period.
These murders are invariably linked to the investigative or critical work of the journalist.
And in China, more than 50 journalists and bloggers are currently detained in “conditions that pose a threat to their lives”, according to Reporters Without Borders.
If Saudi Arabia is deemed to have played a role in Khashoggi’s death, we will see if there are sanctions against the Kingdom. But we shouldn’t expect the punishment to be long-lasting or too damaging.
Recent history has shown us that western governments rarely let the rough treatment of journalists – or even their murders – get in the way of business.