The Dissident: Film Review

The Dissident

I was gripped by the Jamal Khashoggi case when the Saudi journalist disappeared after going inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October 2018, and even though I followed the headlines closely, I learned so much more from watching The Dissident, a shocking, eye-opening documentary.

As you probably already know, Khashoggi, a former royal insider-turned-journalist and critic, walked into the Saudi consulate in Turkey on 2 October 2018 to get paperwork ahead of his wedding and never came back out, and following a highly publicised investigation, it was revealed Saudi assassins killed him soon after his arrival before dismembering and disposing of his body. Saudi officials tried to cover up the murder before eventually admitting it was premeditated, although Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman still denies giving the order.

Even if you know these facts going into this documentary, hearing Turkish police officials discuss their investigation, the obstacles the Saudis threw in their way, and what was in the audio transcripts taken from the room that tragic day as well as sharing footage from their investigation will still resonate and drive the facts home even harder. You will come away with many more details and a much clearer picture of who Khashoggi was as a person and as a journalist as well as a better understanding of the wider context surrounding his murder – his articles, his tweets, his plans, his communication with other dissidents – and the lengths the Saudi government goes to to silence those with opposing opinions.

The latter part of the documentary is the most powerful, perhaps because I knew less about it. This is where the main star of the documentary – Omar Abdulaziz, a Saudi activist and dissident living in Canada – steps in. Abdulaziz knew Khashoggi and they were working on a way to counterattack “the flies” – Saudi officials who bombard a dissenting tweet with pro-Saudi rhetoric to drown out the original message. Abdulaziz offers a unique insight into the world of a dissident, and he’s incredibly brave to take part in the documentary. There have been threats on his life and some of his brothers and friends are in jail without charge in a bid to shut him up – but he carries on fighting.

Other standout interviewees were Khashoggi’s fiancee Hatice Cengiz, particularly her recalling waiting for him for hours outside the consulate, and Agnes Callamard, the United Nations Special Rapporteur who led the inquiry into his death. She takes us through what’s in the transcripts and what she reads out is just horrible.

I take my hat off to director Bryan Fogel for having the courage to make a documentary that not only delves deep into the Khashoggi assassination but covers the rise of bin Salman and his effort to shut down anyone who tries to exercise their freedom of speech. The information I learned from this documentary was astounding, upsetting, outrageous, and very powerful. I recommend everyone gives it a watch.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

This film will have its UK Premiere online as part of the Glasgow Film Festival on 6 March, and Irish Premiere online as part of the Virgin Media Dublin International Film Festival on 13 March. Find out how to watch it online by visiting www.thedissident.film.

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