Turkey launches investigation into disappearance of Saudi journalist

Turkey launches investigation into disappearance of Saudi journalist

ABU DHABI/ISTANBUL - Reuters/AFP
Turkey launches investigation into disappearance of Saudi journalist

Nobel Peace Prize laureate Yemeni Tawakkol Karman holds a picture of missing journalist Jamal Khashoggi during a demonstration in front of the Saudi Arabian consulate, on Oct. 5, 2018 in Istanbul. OZAN KOSE / AFP

Turkey has launched an investigation into the disappearance of prominent Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who has been missing for three days after entering Saudi Arabia consulate in Istanbul.

The Istanbul Chief Prosecutor's Office said in a statement on Oct. 6 that the investigation focuses on "a claim that [Khashoggi] was detained in the consulate."

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia announced that it will allow Turkey to search its consulate.

“The premises are sovereign territory, but we will allow them to enter and search and do whatever they want to do. We have nothing to hide,” Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said in a Bloomberg interview published on Oct. 5.

He said Khashoggi had left the building not long after he entered. Asked if Khashoggi faces charges in Saudi Arabia, Prince Mohammed said it was first important to discover where he was.

“If he’s in Saudi Arabia, I would know that,” he added.

Human rights groups have called on Saudi Arabia to verify Khashoggi’s whereabouts after Turkish and Saudi authorities offered conflicting accounts of his disappearance, with Ankara saying there is no evidence he left the diplomatic mission and Riyadh saying that he exited the same day.

Khashoggi, who has lived in self-exile in Washington for the past year fearing retribution for his critical views, entered the consulate on Oct. 2 to secure documentation for an forthcoming marriage, according to his fiancée, who waited outside.

If Saudi Arabia had detained Khashoggi without acknowledging it, his detention would constitute an enforced disappearance, Human Rights Watch said on Oct. 4. It called on Turkey to deepen its investigation into the case.

“The burden of proof is on Saudi Arabia to produce evidence for its claim that Khashoggi left the consulate alone, and that Saudi agents have not detained him,” said Middle East director Sarah Leah Whitson.

Press freedom watchdogs also raised red flags, while the Washington Post, which has regularly featured Khashoggi’s writing since last year, published a blank space where his column would normally appear.

“Given the Saudi authorities’ pattern of quietly detaining critical journalists, Khashoggi’s failure to emerge from the Saudi consulate on the day he entered is a cause for alarm,” said Sherif Mansour, Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Sophie Anmuth, head of the Middle East desk for Reporters Without Borders, called on both governments to ensure Khashoggi reappears quickly.

“Until otherwise demonstrated, he is still inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul and the Saudi authorities are responsible for his safety and well-being,” she said in a statement.

Hatice Cengiz, Khashoggi’s fiancée, told Reuters he had been concerned about a crackdown on dissent in the kingdom, but assumed he was safe outside the country.

Turan Kışlakçı, a friend who heads the Arab Turkish Media Association, said Khashoggi received assurances from Saudi officials before his visit that he could enter safely.

Turkish presidential spokesman İbrahim Kalın told reporters that Khashoggi remained in the consulate and the authorities were negotiating with the Saudis to resolve the issue.

The consulate said it was working with the Turkish government to “uncover the circumstances” of his disappearance.

Supporters rally for call of release

Supporters of Khashoggi rallied outside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 5 calling for his "release" despite Riyadh's denials that he was being held there.

The Turkish-Arab Media Association (TAM) organised a rally in front of the consulate for Khashoggi.

"As journalists we are concerned by the fate of Jamal. We do not know if he is alive or not, and the statements by Saudi Arabia on the subject are far from satisfactory,"  Kışlakçı said in a statement to supporters.

As Kışlakçı spoke, supporters held up images of the journalist, with the words "Free Jamal Khashoggi".

"We believe that Jamal Khashoggi is the consulate's 'host' and call for his immediate release, or to tell us where he is," Kışlakçı added.

Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty International's Middle East research director, urged Riyadh to "immediately disclose the evidence supporting their claim" that he left the consulate, "otherwise their claims are utterly baseless". 

Yemeni activist and 2011 winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, Tawakkol Karman, hit out at the Saudi authorities and told AFP that she believed Khashoggi "was kidnapped in this gangster's den that is supposed to be a consulate".

"What we want is Jamal Khashoggi's release. He entered the building of the consulate, he has to come out of there safe and sound. And the Turkish government must assume its role and deal with the case of Jamal Khashoggi because Turkish sovereignty has been violated," she added.

Diplomacy, Mohammed bin Salman, Jamal Khashoggi