„To be the change the world needs, I feel the need to talk“

Hatice Cengiz on her life after the murder of Jamal Khashoggi: A fight for press freedom, human rights and justice

Authors: Julia Strasheim

Dear readers, 

"Speaking up!" is the title of our second Helmut Schmidt Lecture, which will take place on 10 November in Berlin. Our speaker: human rights activist Hatice Cengiz. In this special edition of the Schmidtletter, you will read what "Speaking up" means to Hatice Cengiz, after an introduction by our deputy managing director Julia Strasheim. Hatice Cengiz impressively describes how the murder of her fiancé Jamal Khashoggi changed her life and how she has been speaking up for justice and the right to freedom of expression ever since. We believe that now is the time to listen to those who speak up!

We wish you an inspiring read
Your Bundeskanzler-Helmut-Schmidt-Stiftung

“If you don’t speak, you can’t be heard!”, Helmut Schmidt once said. But he was wrong. Because who is allowed to speak at all and who is listened to is a question of privilege. And all over the world, authoritarian regimes are silencing people who raise their voices. Journalists and human rights activists are being defamed, threatened, disrupted in their work or killed. Fundamental rights, such as freedom of assembly and freedom of expression, which were unanimously accepted in 1948 by the UN General Assembly in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are in danger. The situation of media professionals has deteriorated worldwide.
Fortunately there are courageous people who are standing up to these threats. One of them is the Turkish human rights activist Hatice Cengiz. Her fiancé, the journalist Jamal Khashoggi, was murdered on 2 October 2018 in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. The US’s Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) concluded that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman personally ordered the killing. But to date, no-one has been held to account. In April 2022, Turkey transferred the court process to Saudi Arabia, effectively ending the proceedings. Since the murder, Hatice Cengiz has dedicated her life to the struggle for press freedom, human rights and justice. For this reason, on 10 November she will give the Helmut Schmidt Lecture 2022 under the title “Speaking up!”.

We can always learn from her dedication. The year 2022 has given us a particular reason to do so. Since Russia invaded Ukraine, governments in Europe and the US have been trying to secure their energy supplies without Russian imports. Politicians such as US President Joe Biden, France's President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz have felt the need to meet again with MBS, who had been politically isolated since the murder of Jamal Khashoggi.

In their coalition agreement, the federal government announced that it would take a values-based approach to Germany’s foreign policy. The agreement says: In a “systemic competition with authoritarian states”, human rights will serve as a compass. This approach is threatening to break down over energy concerns. But values and interests are not contradictions. But values and interests are not contradictory, because attacks on human rights are among the main causes of war and instability worldwide, that also impact German security needs. Now more than ever, it is therefore time to listen to those who are speaking up – such as Hatice Cengiz.

Author: Hatice Cengiz

The need to speak up, to strive for justice, stems from the importance of raising our voices at a time when the rights offered to us by political elites are insufficient. At a time when communication technologies have entered our lives, making it much easier to raise our voices to defend our rights, we also have obligations to defend those who cannot speak up or are unaware of how to do so.

Life has primarily asked me to tell others about what I have experienced, not what I have read. Four years ago, we, all of us, came across the news of a world-famous journalist who had been assassinated. Readers and listeners encountered this news in one way or another. Unwillingly, I found myself part of this news. Later, when I found that I was the first and the last witness to this news, my testimony turned into that of a victim and then of an advocate for justice, placing a burden on me to become his voice.

While waiting outside the consulate, the media started flocking to the scene slowly. But soon, representatives of all local and international media agencies were present and the story was having a major impact. It was at that moment that I fully realised and understood how powerful the media would be in uncovering the murder that took place and in providing the context for it. Both the media and the impact of speaking up was evident from day one. After that day, the media did not let go of the incident.

I can still remember my first media interview as if it was yesterday. At the time, I was under great shock and it was hard to speak in person. I needed to pull myself together to explain everything that had happened. In the end, it was a natural human act, despite all the chaos, the suffering and the pain. It is a natural human right for a person to defend themselves. If the person cannot defend themselves because they are now absent, another person must speak up to defend them and demand their rights. 

Several months ago, a reporter at the White House questioned the US president’s spokesperson, quoting a tweet published by me. Unfortunately, the spokesperson gave a diplomatic answer – as it is usually the case for a politician. Nevertheless, it still meant a great deal to me, as it embodied what speaking up means.

When I look back, I could not have known that a journey that started with an interview would put me on the path to be a human rights defender today. I am motivated to seek my rights on a subject on which I am convinced I am right. To be the change the world needs, I feel the need to talk, to speak and to bring up not only my own experience but also other painful events that took place around the world. Sadly, I have learnt how crucial this is from my own experience.

You can now register for the Helmut Schmidt Lecture 2022:

To the registration

Share this article: