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'Jamal Khashoggi Way': Washington DC may rename Saudi embassy street

Initiative to rename street began in 2018, but local laws required activists to wait until two years had passed since slain journalist's death
A road sign in honour of slain journalist Jamal Khashoggi
Road sign in honour of slain journalist Khashoggi temporarily put up by protesters in front of White House after his death (AFP/file photo)

A member of the Washington, DC City Council introduced legislation that would see slain journalist Jamal Khashoggi honoured with a road in the US capital named after him. 

Councilmember Brooke Pinto introduced the legislation on Thursday, calling Khashoggi, who was a resident of the district, "a fierce advocate for democracy, human rights, and the rule of law".

Khashoggi, a critic of Saudi Arabia and columnist for the Washington Post and Middle East Eye, was killed by Saudi agents on 2 October 2018 after entering the kingdom's embassy in Istanbul.

The road set to be named in his honour - Jamal Khashoggi Way - runs right in front of Saudi Arabia's embassy, so that "everyone who visits the Saudi embassy will be reminded of Mr Khashoggi's courage", Pinto said in a news release on Thursday. 

'Everyone who visits the Saudi embassy will be reminded of Mr Khashoggi's courage'

- Brooke Pinto, DC Councilmember

"Jamal Khashoggi knew that by shining a light on Saudi Arabia and seeking truth, he risked his freedom and, indeed, his life," the councilmember said. 

"Journalists around the world and here in America face similar dangers every day, and we must never let those who seek to intimidate them succeed, because when journalism is under assault, our freedom and democracy are under assault," she continued. 

The legislation still needs to be brought up for a vote by Chairman Phil Mendelson. If it passes, Mayor Muriel Bowser would then need to sign it into law. 

Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN), an organisation founded by Khashoggi, published a statement on Thursday urging the council to go forward with the vote and pass the legislation. 

"Renaming the street in front of the Saudi Embassy in Washington, DC not only honors Jamal Khashoggi’s legacy as a brave journalist who paid the ultimate price for his commitment to free expression but will also daily remind Saudi government officials that their heinous crimes will not be forgotten," said Sarah Leah Whitson, DAWN's executive director.

Khashoggi's killing sparked international outrage, but little has been done to hold the Saudi government accountable. Months after his death the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) concluded that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, often known as MBS, had personally ordered the killing. The full CIA report has yet to be released. Saudi Arabia has denied the charge.

'A fitting tribute'

Renaming the street in front of the embassy after the slain journalist would align with the 2019 investigation carried out by UN Special Rapporteur Agnes Callamard, which reported on the extrajudicial assassination of Khashoggi. Callamard recommended that a memorial or street in front of the Saudi embassy be named in the slain journalist's honour. 

Activists in DC first called for the street to be renamed after Khashoggi through a petition with about 10,000 signatures that was brought to the local Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) in which the embassy is located. 

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The effort did not succeed at the time because local law prohibits naming any public space after a person unless they are deceased for at least two years. 

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and the anti-war group Code Pink welcomed Councilman Pinto's move to introduce the initiative at the DC City Council on Thursday, with CAIR calling the idea "a fitting tribute to a fearless democracy activist that could not be silenced - even in death - by his murderers". 

"While many world leaders have sought to cover up or disregard this brutal murder orchestrated by Mohammed bin Salman, Khashoggi's friends and supporters are committed to ensuring his legacy will not be forgotten," said CAIR National Executive Director Nihad Awad in a statement. 

"The DC Council must not delay in passing this resolution to honor the memory of Khashoggi and in defiance of his murderers."