Turkey Search Saudi Consulate

A week after dissident journalist disappears in Saudi Arabia’s embassy in Istanbul, Turkish officials searched the Saudi Consulate as part of an investigation into his disappearance.

Background

Jamal Khashoggi is one of the Arab world’s most prominent journalists and commentators. He has been living in self-imposed exile in Turkey. Mr. Khashoggi was part of the Saudi elite, close to members of the royal family, and former adviser to Turki al-Faisal, a Saudi intelligence chief who became Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Britain and America. Khashoggi was a critic of the powerful crown prince, Muhammad bin Salman. He authored a regular column for the Washington Post and was in the inner circle of countless diplomats and journalists. For over a year he used his influence to criticise growing repression in Saudi Arabia and to urge an end to the war in Yemen. He often stressed that his criticism was nasiha, friendly counsel, and not a rejection of the monarchy.

Last week we reported that he went missing while visiting the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

This is the last known image of Jamal Khashoggi. He was last seen on 2 October, entering Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Istanbul to get documents related to his forthcoming marriage. Concerned for his security, he asked his fiancé to wait outside and to call a member of Turkey’s ruling party if he did not emerge. She said he never emerged, and Turkish sources said they believe Khashoggi was killed inside the mission. A Turkish police team entered the consulate building on Tuesday after being given access by Saudi officials.

Analysis

Security camera footage was removed from the Saudi consulate in Istanbul and Turkish staff were abruptly told to go home on the day the dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi disappeared while inside the building, Turkish authorities claimed.

Troubling details have emerged from the investigation into his disappearance. Investigators believe the squad responsible for his disappearance from the Saudi consulate spent several hours at the nearby consul general’s house before leaving for the airport in a convoy of six cars, one of which is thought to have carried the missing dissident or his body.

Details of the planes used to fly 15 Saudi officials from Riyadh to Istanbul have also been confirmed. Two corporate jets rented from a company frequently used by the Saudi government arrived in Istanbul on 2 October and left separately the same evening. One jet, with the tail registration HZ-SK1, left for Cairo, and the second, HZ-SK2, flew to Dubai. Flight tracking records show they both later continued to Riyadh. Turkish investigators believe the CCTV footage from inside the consulate was onboard.

Turkish officials had been adamant that the journalist was killed inside the consulate; a claim they repeated to US authorities who began asking questions about Khashoggi’s disappearance over the weekend. Now, as purely circumstantial evidence seems to incriminate the kingdom, Turkey seems unwilling to cast further accusations, hesitant to jeopardise their lucrative trade ties with the Arab nation.

Yasin Aktay, an adviser to the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, claimed “the Saudi state is not blamed here”, a marked shift in rhetoric that had earlier called for the kingdom to explain what had happened. Earlier, Aktay had pointedly claimed that Khashoggi had been murdered by agents sent from Riyadh.

The journalist’s disappearance has rocked Washington, where he had been based for a year as a columnist.

US officials claimed that Turkey had earlier put the evidence it had gathered directly to Saudi officials and had authorised a series of state-sanctioned leaks intended to pressure Riyadh when those officials had refused to respond. “The Turks need to continue to be transparent about this,” a senior US official told reporters. “They have the Saudis in a delicate position here and know more than they’re letting on. This matters to the current administration. This guy can’t be allowed to vanish.”

Britain, France and the EU have also called for an urgent, credible investigation.

Assessment

Our assessment is that the rise in violence against journalists worldwide is a grave threat to the freedom of expression, and especially to dissent. We believe that dissent is a very valuable part of any functioning democracy, and nation-building is possibly the most important of all collaborative efforts. In our opinion, dissent is what enables countries to ask themselves the important questions, create a space for liberal thinking, encourage innovation and make systemic changes to society. We believe Europe achieved its highest growth during the period of Renaissance which truly encouraged free thinking.