The culture of impunity and the Khashoggi case

The culture of impunity and the Khashoggi case

Receiving threats has been almost a daily routine for journalist Mine Kırıkkanat, who is currently writing for Cumhuriyet newspaper, one of the dailies fiercely critical of the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) governance.

On June 4, two people posing as police officers searched her house while she was abroad. This is the latest incident in a series of physical intimidations, a trend that is becoming alarming. What is most worrying is not just the incidents themselves but the culture of impunity about these incidents.

Kırıkkanat was lucky since she had not become a victim of the wave of attacks that involved physical violence targeting journalists.

On May 10, Selim Demirağ, a columnist for the ultra-nationalist daily Yeni Çağ in Ankara, was beaten by a six-man mob in front of his house. On May 15, journalist İdris Özyol in the southern province of Antalya was beaten outside the office of his paper. That was followed by an assault on May 20 against Ergin Çevik, chief editor of a local news website. On May 24, journalist Hakan Denizli was shot in the leg by an unidentified gunman in the southern province of Adana. These journalists were relatively less known by the wider public in Turkey. But on May 24 Sabahattin Önkibar, a journalist well-known by the public across Turkey, was beaten in Ankara 300 meters from his home.

In their statements to the media, the journalists said they were victims of premeditated attacks; that they were targeted because of their critical views of the ruling coalition and that the aim was intimidation.

Unfortunately, in cases were the assaulters were apprehended, they were all released after their testimonies were taken.

The culture of impunity on attacks against journalists might not be a huge concern in terms of the domestic agenda for the ruling elites. Yet that could be a headache on international platforms, especially at a time when the murder of Jamal Khashoggi will come once again under the spotlight these coming days.

Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist who had become a vocal critic of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, disappeared after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2. He is believed to have been murdered and dismembered by a hit squat which came from Saudi Arabia.

Convinced that the crown prince, commonly known by his initials MbS and considered the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia, ordered the killing, the Turkish administration had campaigned for the responsibles to be brought to justice. Initially denying any involvement, it was thanks to evidence provided by Turkey that made the Saudi government back down. It acknowledged that Khashoggi was killed inside the consulate in Istanbul, saying he died during a fistfight and starting prosecution against a dozen officials.

But the Saudis have failed to convince that the trial of government operatives allegedly behind the brutal murder will take place in accordance with international standards. It has resisted growing demands for transparency for the closed-door trials.

While Turkey issued requests for Interpol warrants for at least 20 suspects, a U.N. judicial expert tasked with investigating the murder is expected to release her report soon. Agnes Callamard, the U.N. special rapporteur leading an independent human rights inquiry into the killing, has been highly critical of the legal process in Saudi Arabia.

The Khashoggi case will obviously be at the top of the agenda of the U.N. Human Rights Council’s summer session which will start on June 24.

It will no doubt come under the spotlight during the media freedom conference in London on July 10. Co-hosted by Canada and the U.K., journalists, civil society and governments are invited to participate in discussions about press freedom and the importance of defending the media against censorship, imprisonment, personal attacks and abuse.

The conference can serve as an important venue for the Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, who has been invited to London, to exert pressure on the Saudis. Yet the culture of impunity on attacks against journalists in Turkey might weaken his hands when he might speak about the culture of impunity in Saudi Arabia.