The Dissident (2020) ☆☆☆1/2(3.5/4): Behind the assassination of one Saudi Arabian journalist

Documentary film “The Dissident” will alternatively chill and infuriate you for good reasons. While going into the details on the shocking death of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018, the documentary also gives us the alarming presentation of how the Saudi government has recently tried to control and suppress local and international dissent by any means available to them, and it is really disturbing to see that the prominent figure behind everything will probably never get arrested or investigated just because of his considerable power and wealth.

At first, the documentary gives us the overview of what happened to Khashoggi in Istanbul, Turkey on October 2nd, 2018. At that time, Khashoggi was about to marry his Turkish fiancée Hatice Cengiz not long after divorcing his wife in Saudi Arabia, and he already came to the Saudi consulate on September 28th for getting the certification document on his recent divorce. Because nothing much happened on that day, Khashoggi did not worry that much when he entered the consulate alone several days later, and that was the last time when he was seen alive.

Once she sensed some time later that something went quite wrong for her fiancé, Cengiz notified Khashoggi’s disappearance to several of colleagues of his. Within a few days, lots of reporters and journalists came to gather right in front of the consulate while the Turkish government promptly embarked on the investigation of this situation, and they were all shocked to learn that what they had been dreading from the very beginning turned out to be true.

The Turkish government naturally became more determined to get to the bottom of the incident, but, of course, the Saudi consulate and government were not so cooperative to say the least. It took more than 10 days before the Turkish police were allowed to examine a room where Khashoggi died, and the investigators noticed the signs of extensive cleanup in the room, but they did discover the clues suggesting that Khashoggi was murdered in the room.

As following how more information about Khashoggi’s death was revealed via more investigation during next several months, the documentary also focuses on how Khashoggi happened to become a persona non grata to his own country. Since he rose to prominence in the 1990s, Khashoggi had been one of the leading local journalists associated with the Saudi government, and he was often one of its most vocal advocates, but his relationship with the Saudi government became quite strained when he became a supporter of Middle East democratization after the Arab Spring movement was started in 2011. When he became the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia shortly after his father became the new king of the country in 2015, Mohammed bin Salman promised lots of changes and reforms at first, but he turned out to be more interested in being the de facto ruler of his country, and Khashoggi came to criticize Bin Salman’s ruthless pursuit of more power and wealth a lot via media outlets including his own Twitter account.

Not so surprisingly, Bin Salman and his inner circle members soon embarked on suppressing Khashoggi, and Khashoggi had no choice but to leave his country alone in June 2017, but he was not stopped at all. After settling in Washington D.C. and then hired at the Washington Post, he became more active than ever during next several months, and that certainly displeased the Saudi government.

To the Saudi government, Khashoggi was just a bigger one among many dissidents to be stopped, and a young Saudi activist named Omar Adulaziz willingly tell us about his ongoing plight. Although he fled to Canada before getting arrested, the Saudi government has kept threatening Abdulaziz in many ways, and his two brothers and many friends in Saudi Arabia have already been incarcerated even though there is not any official legal charge against them.

As trying to continue his political activities on the Internet, Adulaziz soon found himself targeted by an army of hackers and online trolls hired by the Saudi government. Because of the wide popularity of Twitter and other social media applications in the country, the Saudi government has actively tried to manipulate the public opinion among its people on the Internet, and the documentary shows us how it can do that and other insidious activities via highly advanced digital tools, which surely come handy thanks to its enormous wealth. After interacting a bit with Adulaziz, Khashoggi, who also suffered a fair share of Saudi online trolls just like Adulaziz, was quite interested in fighting against those dirty digital tactics of the Saudi government, and they were actually beginning their little but significant project before Khashoggi’s death.

After Khashoggi’s death, Adulaziz naturally becomes more alarmed than before, but he keeps trying to continue political activities with more caution. Although many prominent nations and big corporations initially expressed disgust and contempt about what Bin Salman and the Saudi government blatantly committed, Bin Salman and the Saudi government virtually got away with that while not receiving any legal or political comeuppance due to that orange-faced prick who happened to be in the White House at that time. As shown at the end of the documentary, it did not take much time for US and many other prominent nations to shake hands cordially with the Saudi government as if nothing serious had happened at all.

Directed by Bryan Fogel, who won an Oscar for his previous documentary “Icarus” (2017), “The Dissident” is an illuminating documentary on the murder of Khashoggi just like another recent documentary “Kingdom of Silence” (2020). Although that documentary is relatively plain and modest in comparison, but it complements “The Dissident” well as providing a more intimate human portrayal of Khashoggi, and they will make an interesting double feature show for you if you are interested in getting to know more about its remarkable human subject and his unjust death.

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