Saudi Journalist Disappears After Criticizing Monarchy

By Leah Cerilli

Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was last seen on October 2 at the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul. Khashoggi is a Saudi national known for publishing critical pieces on Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Istanbul is now accusing Saudi Arabia of murdering Khashoggi, claiming Turkish police have “concrete information” to prove this and have requested a search of the consulate.

On October 2, Khashoggi visited the consulate to receive a certification needed to marry his fiance. He was not seen leaving the consulate, but Saudi officials insist he left on his own. In an attempt to verify these claims, Turkish police officers guarding the consulate checked their security cameras and did not see Khashoggi leave the consulate on foot.

Turkish authorities have examined camera footage from outside the consulate, but the footage has not been released to the public. Authorities also examined airport departures and arrivals, searching for any clue of Khashoggi. In an attempt to find possible suspects, 15 Saudi nationals who arrived in Istanbul the same day are currently being investigated. The group arrived from Riyadh in two private airplanes, one landing before Khashoggi entered the consulate and the other landing afterward.

Sabah, a pro-government Turkish newspaper with connections to President Tayyip Erdogan, reported details from the flight manifests. It claims a group of nine individuals arrived on the first plane and checked in at two separate hotels near the Saudi Consulate. The second group of six individuals allegedly went directly to the consulate and then back to the airport a few hours later. Sabah also reported that a convoy of six vehicles left the consulate two and a half hours after Khashoggi’s visit.

Khashoggi is a prominent newspaper editor. He frequently appears on Arab political talk shows and is a columnist for the Washington Post’s Global Opinions section. Although still a Saudi citizen, Khashoggi has been living in self-imposed exile from Saudi Arabia in Washington due to his outspoken views. He is also a former advisor of Prince Turki Al-Faisal, the former Saudi intelligence chief and ambassador to the United States and United Kingdom.

If compelling evidence is presented proving Khashoggi’s murder, Saudi Arabia will likely face a further deteriorating relationship with Turkey. Turkish President Erdogan has criticized Saudi Arabia for its embargo and isolation of Qatar. Turkey sent troops to Qatar in 2017 to show its support in the face of the regional embargo. The United States also has a particular stake in Khashoggi’s whereabouts since he is a US resident. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has called on Saudi Arabia to support a thorough, transparent investigation.

It is interesting to note that both Erdogan and Bin Salman have faced international condemnation over their treatment of journalists. There have been hundreds of arrests of outspoken journalists, activists, and clerics since Bin Salman rose to power in June 2017. Critics have previously been captured in foreign countries and forcibly returned to Saudi Arabia, making this behavior characteristic of Bin Salman’s past actions. At the same time, Bin Salman has focused on building a modern, freer image of Saudi Arabia by passing reforms allowing women to drive and reducing the powers of religious police. Evidence that Khashoggi was murdered by the government would severely hamper the progress made thus far  while portraying Bin Salman in the same repressive and authoritarian light as his predecessors.