The fate of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi reminds me of other courageous journalists, murdered with little attention paid by the outside world.
Forty-four journalists were killed in 2018, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, most of them foreign but including five slain at the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Md. Some were killed in conflict zones, while others were murdered while investigating official corruption, from Mexico to Slovakia to Afghanistan to Brazil.
With rare exceptions, such murders go unpunished.
I intend to write periodically about some of these cases, to celebrate the bravery of journalists who put their lives on the line with little or no protection. Their stories remind us of how precious American press freedom is, which we used to take for granted. No more.
I'll begin with the story of Shujaat Bukhari, whose murder I learned about while on a recent vacation in Kashmir.
Bukhari was the respected editor of Rising Kashmir, an online newspaper in the Kashmiri capital of Srinagar. He was mowed down in his car in the city center in June by three men on motorcycles. The assassins were pros; they fired 72 bullets, killing him, his driver, and a security guard.
No one knows who killed Bukhari or whether the orders came from Pakistan or India, but his family and friends believe he was slain because of his behind-the-scenes work for peace in Kashmir. Indian officials, who control most of Kashmir, have yet to bring any charges in the murder.
"Shujaat had a huge capacity for bringing people together," says his brother-in-law Ayaz Hafiz. "He wanted this Kashmir problem to be solved with his inner core. He wanted all this suffering to end."
Driving around Srinagar provides quick exposure to the tensions that haunt this beautiful city, where houseboats sit idyllically among acres of lily pads in Dal Lake, drawing tourists when political tensions are in abeyance.
These days, Indian army and police contingents are visible at many crossroads, some wielding metal screens to ward off stones thrown by angry youth. India and Pakistan have fought three wars over Kashmir, which is predominantly Muslim but contains communities of Hindus and Buddhists.
Hard-line Islamist militants have often infiltrated from the Pakistan-controlled slice of Kashmir, while many Muslim Kashmiris on the Indian side wish they could be independent of both countries. Meantime, the heavy Indian military presence agitates local Muslim youth, who view the Indians as occupiers.
As a prominent newspaper editor, Bukhari hoped he could use his broad contacts on both sides to ameliorate the conflict. "He had wide acceptability in India," said journalist Iftikhar Gilani, a Bukhari friend. "But he had good friends in Pakistan as well. He was a kind of connecting link between the two parts of Kashmir and between Pakistan and India."
Bukhari had cooperated with a British nongovernmental organization that was organizing dialogue between the two parts of Kashmir. In August 2017, he participated in a conference in Dubai that included politicians and retired military officers from both Pakistan and India.
Hard-line Islamist militants in Pakistan began a vicious social-media campaign, alleging he had betrayed his Muslim brethren in Dubai (even though this meeting was only a talk fest). The editor grew worried about his safety but was unwilling to leave Srinagar because his presence was needed at his newspaper.
"When I asked him to get more protection," says his brother-in-law, "he would say: 'I have not done anything wrong. I am doing my duty as a journalist.' "
So who killed Shujaat Bukhari? The vicious social-media criticism of the Dubai conference would seem to point at Pakistan. Local police initially (and conveniently) blamed the killing on militants linked to the Pakistani terror group Lashkar-e-Taiba, including an alleged ringleader who had just escaped from Indian police custody in suspicious circumstances. But four months later, no one has been charged.
On the other hand, mysterious elements of his death could hint at an Indian hand in the murder. Bukhari was shot outside his office in the busy Press Enclave. A police car is normally posted a few doors down from the office, say his colleagues, but it was mysteriously missing at the time of the murder, and police security cameras had been shifted. Nor did police show up from a nearby police station for more than 20 minutes, allowing the killers to escape.
Moreover, Bukhari was killed on the very same day that the United Nations released an extensive report on Indian and Pakistani repression in Kashmir. He had helped provide open-source documents for the report, which had infuriated the Indian government.
There's unlikely to be any interest in this case from a White House that appears ready to facilitate a Saudi cover-up of the Khashoggi murder. But the unsolved murder of Bukhari is a blot on an Indian democracy that has long prided itself on a vibrant free press.
Who benefits from Bukhari's death? "Those who don't want any peace effort between the two countries," says journalist Gilani.
And those who want to intimidate local journalists from writing about the situation in Kashmir.