The missing Saudi journalist and the worldwide suffering of journalism
It has been five days since Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi went missing after he visited the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to complete the necessary paperwork in order to marry his Turkish fiancé Hatice Cengiz. He has not been seen since then, although the Saudi consulate insists he left the building on Oct. 2 and that they were informed about his disappearance through media reports.
The Turkish Foreign Ministry summoned Saudi Arabian Ambassador to Ankara Walid bin Abdulkarim al-Khuraiji on Oct. 4 to seek explanations about the whereabouts of the missing journalist. According to reports, the ambassador told Turkish officials they had no information about him and that they are also probing the situation.
The surveillance cameras in that part of Istanbul do not have any footage of Khashoggi leaving the building and that is why presidential spokesperson İbrahim Kalın, who is also the chief foreign advisor of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, said they believed the journalist was still in the consulate.
Khashoggi was obliged to leave his country and go to the United States last year after the Saudi Kingdom’s monarchy, under the rule of King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, had launched fresh pressure on activists, writers and journalists. Although he never labeled himself as a dissident journalist, some of his columns published at the Washington Post and speeches he made in the United States were critical. He was simply one of many journalists in the world who had to flee his country due to being unable to freely practice journalism and exercise freedom of the press.
This case has many implications, but the first thing we care about is the safety of our colleague. Saudi officials should make convincing explanations about what happened to him after he entered the consulate. They should introduce some evidence to support their argument that Khashoggi left the consulate safe and sound. If not, we have every reason to believe he was either apprehended on the premises or was smuggled. Either option is a clear violation of international law.
The second aspect is about the fact that Khashoggi went missing in Turkish territories while his life safety was under the guarantee and responsibility of the Republic of Turkey. The unwillingness of Saudi officials in cooperating with relevant Turkish bodies and making sound explanations over the disappearance of the journalist will naturally strain Ankara-Riyadh ties. Turkey has opted to follow a normal diplomatic line and summoned the envoy for explanations with calls for an immediate resolution of the misery around Khashoggi.
The 1961-dated Vienna Convention that regulates the diplomatic code of conduct between countries provides untouchability to both diplomats and to diplomatic missions, but apprehending a person forcefully at a diplomatic building is surely a clear misuse of this convention. Furthermore, this unlawful act of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia would also be a major humiliation against the Republic of Turkey.
Third is about the worldwide suffering of the state of journalism. With the decline of genuine democracies and the rise of nationalist-populist leaders in every corner of the world, even in so many so-called prominent democracies of the West, the space for journalists to uphold their jobs in the most decent way is shrinking every passing day. What is worse is the fact that journalists are still subject to murders and violence—not only in undemocratic parts of the world but even in EU countries—making this job one of the most dangerous.
Unfortunately, Khashoggi’s disappearance case happened on the same day President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan defended that democracy was not possible with the media and that it could not be counted as a fourth power. We believe the contrary.
Cracking down on journalists and the media in general will not make the world more democratic and safe. The Turkish government should be more direct in its appeals on the missing journalist if Saudi officials fail to cooperate in an efficient way with the relevant Turkish bodies.