Prominent Saudi Journalist Critical of Riyadh Government Missing in Istanbul

Jamal Khashoggi is a contributor to the Washington Post (AFP Photo/MOHAMMED AL-SHAIKH)

A prominent Saudi journalist critical of Riyadh was still missing on Wednesday 24 hours after he entered the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul, with his anxious fiancee waiting for news outside and US officials investigating his case.

Jamal Khashoggi, who writes opinion pieces for the Washington Post, has not been seen since entering the Saudi consulate building on Tuesday where he was to receive an official document for the couple’s marriage.

Khashoggi, a former government adviser who went into self-imposed exile in the United States last year to avoid possible arrest, has been critical of some policies of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Riyadh’s intervention in the war in Yemen.

“We have been unable to reach Jamal today and are very concerned about where he may be,” the Washington Post‘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,” Lopez said.

Khashoggi’s Turkish fiancee has been waiting outside the consulate since Wednesday morning.

“I haven’t received any news from him since 1 pm (1000 GMT) on Tuesday,” 36-year-old Hatice, who would not give her family name, told AFP as she stood outside the barricades around the building.

She said Khashoggi had left his mobile phone with her.

“We want to know his whereabouts. Where is Jamal?” she said. “We want him to come out of the consulate safe and sound.”

Neither the Turkish authorities nor the Saudi consulate or embassy in Turkey responded to enquiries about the incident.

The US State Department said it was investigating the matter.

– ‘Closely following case’ –

A friend of Khashoggi, Turan Kislakci, head of the Turkish-Arab Media Association, said he had contacted Turkish officials who said “they are closely following the case”.

“We are certain that Jamal is being held inside unless the consulate has a tunnel,” Kislakci told AFP.

Hatice appealed to the Turkish government to use all diplomatic channels to find her fiance. “It is a problematic country,” she said, referring to Saudi Arabia.

She said Khashoggi had gone to the consulate to obtain documents for their own marriage to prove he was not married, but never came out.

– ‘Fear, intimidation’ in Saudi Arabia –

In an article written for the Post in September 2017, Khashoggi wrote: “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?”

During the same period, Khashoggi said he had been banned from contributing to the Al-Hayat daily, owned by Saudi Prince Khaled bin Sultan al-Saud.

The writer admitted to defending the Muslim Brotherhood, which did not appear to please the newspaper.

While Riyadh classifies the Brotherhood as a “terrorist organisation”, Turkey is one of the group’s main supporters.

The hashtag “#kidnappingofJamalKhashoggi” was one of the most shared in Arabic on Twitter since Tuesday evening.

Saudi Arabia, which ranks 169th out of 180 on the World Press Freedom Index issued by Reporters Without Borders (RSF), has embarked on a modernisation campaign since the 2017 appointment of Prince Mohammed as heir to the throne.

But the ultra-conservative kingdom, which won plaudits in June for lifting a ban on women driving, has drawn heavy criticism for its handling of dissent.

Khashoggi once said that before he left the kingdom, the Saudi government banned him from Twitter “when I cautioned against an overly enthusiastic embrace of then-president-elect Donald Trump”.

He is one of the rare Saudi journalists to raise his voice against the country’s repression. In one of his last tweets, he criticised the lawsuit filed against a Saudi economist, Essam al-Zamel, after his arrest by Saudi authorities.

SOURCE: AFP, Fulya Ozerkan