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Iyad el-Baghdadi: In the ‘crosshairs’ of Saudi government

Human rights activist Iyad el-Baghdadi discusses his pro-democracy work and how his life is now under threat.

Just a few months after journalist Jamal Khashoggi was killed in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, another Arab dissident says his life is also in danger.

Iyad el-Baghdadi is a pro-democracy activist and strong critic of Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

The UK’s Guardian newspaper reported that Norwegian officials took him from his home in Oslo to a secure location.

There, he was told the CIA had warned Norway‘s government the Saudis had him “in their crosshairs”.

El-Baghdadi gained popularity during the Arab Spring when he posted pro-human rights messages on social media.

The Palestinian activist was granted asylum in Norway four years ago after being expelled from the United Arab Emirates for criticising Middle Eastern regimes.

In a way when they come after you that's when you know that you are being effective. You know that you hit a nerve, in other words.

by Iyad el-Baghdadi, Human rights activist

In an exclusive interview, Iyad el-Baghdadi discusses an unlikely friendship with the murdered Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi and how continuing Khashoggi’s work has made him a target of the Saudi government.

El-Baghdadi says he began to feel under threat less than a month after Khashoggi’s death.

“On October 15th, I received a friendly tip from a Saudi source indicating that I am being discussed and that I should be concerned about my security,” el-Baghdadi said.

It was months later in February 2019, when he was working on an investigation into Saudi-led campaigns against Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon and owner of the Washington Post, that he realised that he might be in danger. He filed a report with the Norwegian police in March.

“I started to understand how sensitive that matter is,” he said. “Revisiting a lot of my old sources … I don’t want to be too dramatic but I felt like I probably have crosshairs on my back.”

The Bezos investigation was part of his continuation of Khashoggi’s work, which he says also includes developing a state media watchdog that translates Arabic propaganda into English in order to expose governments and hold them accountable.

He says that he will continue his work despite the threats.

“In a way when they come after you that’s when you know that you are being effective. You know that you hit a nerve, in other words,” he said. “Knowing that you have a certain effectiveness that would prompt them to try to deter you and to stop you really is validation … and it’s basically a message saying that I need to double down my efforts.”