Jamal Khashoggi, a well-known Saudi Arabian journalist and Washington Post columnist who has been critical of his country’s government, disappeared last week.
His disappearance is straining Turkey-Saudi relations and could complicate Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s recent attempts to recast his government as forward-thinking and reform-minded — as well as his country’s close relationship with the US.The incident has thrown sharp focus on Saudi Arabia’s young Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s perceived crackdown on dissidents, his kingdom’s delicate relationship with Turkey, and Khashoggi ‘s influence within the royal court.
The 59-year-old veteran journalist was last seen on Tuesday, October 2, (photo) walking into the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. He was there to obtain a document verifying his divorce from a previous marriage so that he could remarry a Turkish woman.
But what happened next is a mystery. Saudi Arabia has strenuously denied any involvement in Khashoggi’s disappearance.
Turkish officials said over the weekend they have “concrete” evidence that the Saudi writer was killed in the consulate and his body was then clandestinely taken out of the country. Some media have even put forth gruesome theories of how his body may have been dismembered and smuggled out.
The Saudi government, however, says that they had nothing to do with his disappearance and maintains that he left through a back entrance. However, who could trust the Saudi government which during the past year forced the libanese president Mr Hariri to resign while holding him hostage on its ground.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan demanded Monday that Saudi Arabia prove that journalist Jamal Khashoggi left the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on his own, as Saudi officials have repeatedly asserted, after he disappeared last week while inside the mission.
Erdogan’s comments were his most direct suggestion yet of potential Saudi culpability in Khashoggi’s disappearance. But other Turkish officials have said they believe that Khashoggi was killed by Saudi agents inside the consulate.
“Do you not have cameras and everything of the sort?” Erdogan said of the consular officials. “They have all of them. Then why do you not prove this? You need to prove it.”
Turkey’s Foreign Ministry summoned the Saudi ambassador to urge “full cooperation” in the investigation into Khashoggi’s disappearance, the official Anadolu news agency said Monday.
The ambassador was called to the ministry in the Turkish capital, Ankara, on Sunday, the agency said. It was the second time Turkey summoned the ambassador since Khashoggi failed to emerge after a visit to the consulate on Oct. 2.
Turkish officials have said they believe Khashoggi, 59, a critic of the Saudi leadership and a contributor to The Washington Post’s Global Opinions section, was killed by a team of 15 Saudis flown in specifically to carry out the attack. Saudi authorities have called the allegation “baseless.”
A report Monday in the daily newspaper Sabah said investigators were also focused on a convoy of diplomatic vehicles that departed from the consulate on the day Khashoggi vanished. A U.S. official said that Turkish investigators believe Khashoggi was probably dismembered and his body removed in boxes and flown out of the country.
The kingdom’s ambassador in Washington, Prince Khalid bin Salman, told The Post the consulate’s cameras were not recording. But footage from Turkish cameras is believed to be available. Turkish sources have said there are images of Mr. Khashoggi leaving the consulate on a previous visit on Sept. 28 but none from Oct. 2. Formal confirmation of that result from Turkish authorities would support the account of Mr. Khashoggi’s fiancee, Hatice Cengiz, who says she waited for him outside the mission until after midnight but never saw him. It would strongly indicate that the Saudi account is false according to WashingtonPost.
Turkish officials also have disseminated a report that 15 Saudi nationals flew into Istanbul on the day of Mr. Khashoggi’s disappearance and were inside the consulate when Mr. Khashoggi disappeared. A private Turkish news agency, DHA, said the group arrived on two Gulfstreams belonging to a Riyadh-based company and that they landed at Ataturk Airport. If that is true, there should be records of the planes landing, and perhaps passenger manifests and passport records, along with more video from the airport and consulate. Its release would belie Saudi claims that no such delegation visited.
Who is Jamal Khassoggi?
The journalist is known for his interviews with Osaba bin Laden. Khashoggi had followed Osama bin Laden’s career since the 1980s and had interviewed him several times. Khashoggi knew bin Laden during his formative years as a radical Islamist and interviewed him in Afghanistan in 1987 during the fight against Soviet troops and pro-Soviet regime. He also met bin Laden in Tora Bora and lastly in Sudan in 1995.It is reported that Khashoggi once tried to persuade bin Laden to quit violence.
- Saudi Arabia’s new prince Mohammed bin Salman hates criticism
The 33-year-old crown prince has tried to paint himself as a reformer by loosening restrictions on women driving and opening up cinemas in the Kingdom, but he’s also led a purge of opposition within his government under the guise of a crackdown on corruption and championed a bloody, brutal war with Yemen that’s left tens of thousands dead.
And despite his reforms, MBS hasn’t shown any willingness to tolerate political dissent or free speech. He’s even arrested some of the activists who championed the reforms he’s pushed through.
Turkey and Saudi Arabia already have a strained relationship, for a few reasons. The gulf monarchy is engaged in an ongoing blockade of Qatar, one of Turkey’s allies, and Riyadh doesn’t agree with Turkey’s embrace of political Islam or its close ties to the Muslim Brotherhood. Khashoggi’s disappearance could escalate matters, and cause either country to cut off diplomatic or economic ties.
These are dark times for press freedom globally. The number of reporters imprisoned and killed has risen. The independence and diversity of the media in many countries is diminishing. New commercial pressures and the growth of the internet at the expense of news publishers are part of the explanation. So are the resurgence of authoritarian politics, and anti-democratic attacks on “fake news”. Turkey has seen some of the harshest repression, which intensified after the attempted coup against President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in 2016, with titles closed down and many journalists put in prison.
Credits: VOX, CNN.com, JPOST.com, Daily Sabah, the Guardian, WashingtonPost.com, Wikipedia.