Updated: Nov. 29, 2018 at 11:01 a.m.
A local governing group unanimously passed a resolution Wednesday to ceremonially name part of a Foggy Bottom road in front of the Saudi embassy in honor of slain Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.
The Foggy Bottom and West End Advisory Neighborhood Commission proposed the legislation to honor Khashoggi, a former Virginia resident, who was assassinated in Istanbul last month at the orders of the crown prince of Saudi Arabia. Proponents of the resolution said ceremonially naming a part of New Hampshire Avenue NW in front of the embassy will reaffirm the importance of freedom of the press for the American public.
James Harnett, a junior and an ANC commissioner, said he advocated for the change to support students pursuing journalism careers who may now feel threatened by the Saudi government’s actions.
“If that status quo is threatened, if fake news threats against journalists become the norm, then we no longer live in the democratic society that we used to,” Harnett said in an interview. “That’s something that’s been extremely concerning to me.”
Harnett said he first started speaking with others about ceremoniously naming the street about a month ago after seeing an online petition on Change.org calling for the renaming. He said that following the ANC’s approval, the D.C. Council and Mayor Muriel Bowser must approve the proposal, which would ceremonially name a portion of the street “Jamal Khashoggi Way.”
Harnett said that students in the School of Media and Public Affairs are especially passionate about the street name because Khashoggi’s death may have led students to question whether they still wish to pursue a career in journalism.
“In almost every case, it only reaffirms people’s need and desire to go into this field because people don’t get murdered for no reason,” he said. “This is something that truly matters and has the power to change things – reporting the truth and reporting what’s going on around the world.”
Harnett said streets in the District have been ceremoniously named in the past to remember those who were killed because of their political beliefs. A stretch of Wisconsin Avenue NW near the Russian embassy was ceremoniously renamed in February to honor Boris Nemtsov, a critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Harnett said officials have also pushed to rename streets in response to “nonpolitical acts.” The D.C. Council moved in July to rename part of U Street after Ben’s Chili Bowl, a landmark restaurant that celebrated its 60th anniversary in August.
“There are a number of places around D.C. where this is the case, not just political dissenters and people who have stood up to authoritarian regimes,” Harnett said. “There’s a long and standing precedent for us taking these actions, and that’s why we thought it necessary for us to do so.”
Michael De Dora – the Washington advocacy manager at the Committee to Protect Journalists, a nonprofit organization that promotes press freedom – read a statement on behalf of the organization in support of the resolution. He said the resolution “sends a daily reminder to Saudi officials that U.S. residents reject their repressive tactics and strongly support freedom of thought and of the press.”
“If the Saudis can get away with the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, then no journalist anywhere is safe,” he read.
Nihad Awad, the national executive director and founder of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said he was a close friend of Khashoggi. He said the naming would honor Khashoggi’s contributions to the District and the field of journalism.
“He honored freedom of the press, he was not a dissident,” Awad said. “He was a very gentle soul and he gave his life for something that we all believe and we cherish.”
This post was updated to reflect the following correction:
The Hatchet incorrectly reported that Jamal Khashoggi was assassinated in Saudi Arabia. He was killed in Istanbul at the orders of the Saudi crown prince. We regret this error.