Critical Saudi journalist Khashoggi goes missing in Turkey

Friends and relatives of Jamal Khashoggi, a Washington-based Saudi journalist known for being a vocal critic of the Saudi leadership, said that they lost contact with him on Tuesday, while he was visiting the Saudi Consulate General in İstanbul, according to a report by The Washington Post.

According to his fiancée Hatice, Khashoggi entered the consulate around 1 p.m. and did not emerge at 5 p.m., after the consulate officially closed. She told Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency that the prominent pundit visited the consulate to obtain some documents he needed.

The Turkish-Arab Media Association released a written statement saying, “We are watching with concern that Khashoggi still did not leave the building,” and stressing “deep concerns in Turkish and international media about recent human rights violations in Saudi Arabia.”

Khashoggi, a former general manager and editor-in-chief of the Al Arab Media Group, was last seen entering the consulate at 1 p.m. on Oct. 2, according to the statement.

“When I speak of the fear, intimidation, arrests and public shaming of intellectuals and religious leaders who dare to speak their minds, and then I tell you that I’m from Saudi Arabia, are you surprised?” Khashoggi wrote in his first piece for The Washington Post.

Turan Kışlakçı, a friend of Khashoggi, said by midnight there was still no sign of him and that they were sure he was still inside.

Spokesmen for the Turkish and Saudi foreign ministries did not respond to messages seeking comment on Khashoggi’s possible whereabouts, The Washington Post said.

However, later Wednesday, Turkey’s presidential spokesperson İbrahim Kalın said Khashoggi remains inside the Saudi Consulate General in İstanbul. Kalın said Turkish authorities were in contact with Saudi officials and that he hoped the situation would be resolved.

Khashoggi has lived in self-imposed exile in the United States since last year when he left Saudi Arabia over concerns that he would be arrested or prevented from traveling. He is a prominent commentator on Saudi affairs, who also contributes to The Washington Post’s Global Opinions section.

“We have been unable to reach Jamal today and are very concerned about where he may be,” the newspaper’s international opinions editor, Eli Lopez, said in a statement. “We are monitoring the situation closely, trying to gather more information. It would be unfair and outrageous if he has been detained for his work as a journalist and commentator.”

Saudi Arabia’s Consulate in İstanbul insisted on Thursday that Khashoggi left its building before disappearing, directly contradicting Turkish officials who say they believe the writer is still inside. The comments further deepen the mystery surrounding what happened to Khashoggi.

In a statement carried by the state-run Saudi Press Agency, the consulate did not challenge that Khashoggi, 59, had disappeared while on a visit to the diplomatic post. “The consulate confirmed that it is carrying out follow-up procedures and coordination with the Turkish local authorities to uncover the circumstances of the disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi after he left the consulate building,” the statement said, without elaborating.

Turkey’s foreign ministry summoned Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Ankara on Wednesday for consultations about the disappearance of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, an official said on Thursday.

Khashoggi was visiting the Saudi Consulate General in İstanbul to obtain documents for a marriage license. He went to the consulate on Friday for the first time and left without any incident that day.

Khashoggi is still in the Saudi consulate in İstanbul, two senior Turkish government officials told Reuters on Wednesday. Contacted by Reuters for comment, the Saudi consulate said it would respond if there was any comment to make. The Saudi Embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Tuesday.

The continued absence of the prominent former newspaper editor, for years a familiar face on political talk shows on Arab satellite television networks, could complicate already uneasy ties between Riyadh and Ankara.

Over the past year, Khashoggi has written extensively about the growing influence of Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s young crown prince, and been critical of some of Mohammed’s policies, including a campaign of arrests targeting perceived opponents and dissidents, The Washington Post said.

“With every supposed reform comes a wave of fresh arrests, prison sentences and increasingly repressive behavior. At each turning point, though, Jamal has offered readers of The Post insightful commentary and sharp criticism about the seemingly impenetrable country,” Washington Post Global Opinions editor Jason Rezaian wrote on Oct. 2.

All public protests are banned in Saudi Arabia, as are political parties. Labor unions are illegal, the media are controlled and criticism of the royal family can lead to prison.

Dozens of activists, clerics and intellectuals have been arrested in the past year in a crackdown on potential opponents of the kingdom’s absolute rulers. Among them was economist Essam al-Zamil, a friend of Khashoggi’s, who was charged this week by joining a terrorist organization, meeting with foreign diplomats and inciting protests.

Scores of businessmen were detained last November in Riyadh’s Ritz-Carlton hotel in a separate campaign against corruption, unnerving some foreign investors. Most were released after reaching financial settlements with the authorities.

Turkey is ranked 157th among 180 countries in the 2018 World Press Freedom Index released by Reporters Without Borders (RSF). If Turkey falls two more places, it will make it to the list of countries on the blacklist, which have the poorest record in press freedom.

Turkey is the biggest jailer of journalists in the world. The most recent figures documented by SCF show that 236 journalists and media workers were in jail as of September 20, 2018, most in pretrial detention. Of those in prison 168 were under arrest pending trial while only 68 journalists have been convicted and are serving their time. Detention warrants are outstanding for 147 journalists who are living in exile or remain at large in Turkey.

Detaining tens of thousands of people over alleged links to the Gülen movement, the government also closed down some 200 media outlets, including Kurdish news agencies and newspapers, after a coup attempt in Turkey on July 15, 2016.

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