WASHINGTON (AP) — A month before President Joe Biden’s trip to Saudi Arabia, the District of Columbia is renaming the street outside the Saudi Embassy Jamal Khashoggi Way, tracking Riyadh for its role in the murder of the Saudi dissident activist and journalist in 2018.
In the presence of members of the DC Council, a Jamal Khashoggi Way sign was unveiled directly in front of the Embassy’s main entrance.
“We intend to remind the people behind these doors … that we hold them accountable and we will hold them accountable for the murder of our friend,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director of DAWN, the pro-Arab world. democratic organization founded by Khashoggi before his death.
Whitson also criticized what she called the “brazen capitulation” of the Biden administration for seeking to improve relations with the Saudi government and scheduling an official presidential visit to the kingdom.
Khashoggi, a prominent Saudi journalist and Washington Post columnist, entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2, 2018, seeking the necessary documentation for a planned wedding with his fiancee waiting for him outside. The 59-year-old never emerged.
The Saudi government initially denied any wrongdoing. But under mounting international pressure, Riyadh finally admitted Khashoggi was killed inside the consulate in what the Saudis said was a repatriation effort gone awry. The CIA then released a report concluding that Khashoggi had been killed and dismembered on the orders of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman.
The Saudi regime has always denied this link. Several lower-level Saudi officials and agents were sentenced to prison terms for the murder.
The DC Council voted unanimously late last year to rename a section of a block for Khashoggi.
“I’m very proud that we did this,” DC Board Chairman Phil Mendelson said. “The Saudi government cannot forget what happened, what it did. It is a constant reminder.
The name change is ceremonial, as indicated by the brown road sign instead of the usual green, and it will not impact the Embassy’s mailing address. But the sign will remain indefinitely. An email to the Saudi Embassy seeking comment was not answered.
Khashoggi’s Turkish fiancée, Hatice Cengiz, was unable to attend the ceremony, but a statement from her was read aloud.
In it, she bitterly criticized the Biden administration for “smoothing principle and opportunity over principle.”
Cengiz also directly asked Biden, during his meeting with the Crown Prince, “Can you at least ask, ‘Where is Jamal’s body? “”
Karine Jean Pierre, the White House press secretary, did not say whether Biden would raise the issue of Khashoggi’s murder when he meets with Bin Salman next month.
“The president is a maverick. It’s not something he’s afraid to talk about,” she said. But she did not confirm whether the murder would be a topic of conversation.
The DC government has a history of such public moves to troll or shame foreign governments. In February 2018, the street in front of the Russian Embassy was named Boris Nemtsov Plaza, after a Russian activist was shot while walking on a bridge near the Kremlin in 2015.
On the former site of the Russian Embassy, a street has been renamed in honor of longtime Russian dissident Andrei Sakharov.
Wednesday’s street name change was essentially a formalization of a campaign by independent activists that had been going on for years. Shortly after Khashoggi’s death, local activist Claude Taylor began placing realistic Jamal Khashoggi street signs throughout the city, including outside the embassy. Taylor said he had as many as 10 signs in different locations at one time, including one near Dupont Circle that stood for two years before it was vandalized.
“It’s just a form of public protest with a performance art aspect to it,” Taylor said.
Although he noted with a laugh that he wasn’t invited to Wednesday’s ceremony, Taylor said, “I’m glad the city did the right thing and I’m glad he’s being recognized. in this way.”
Associated Press writer Chris Megerian contributed to this report.