By Prarthana Mitra
A week ago, Saudi reporter and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi went missing in Istanbul, leading to a furor in the international media circuit. Jamal, a US resident of Saudi descent, was last spotted entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, presumably to pick up documents required to marry his (Turkish) fiancee. His whereabouts since then are unknown.
A passionate dissenter
Turkish officials later told the media that the 59-year-old veteran journalist was killed by assassins waiting inside for him, which is plausible since Jamal was a fierce dissident of Islamic extremism and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s policies.
Curating an influential column in The Post, Jamal never minced his words about policies he believed were detrimental to Saudi interest. In 2017, Jamal wrote on Salman’s rise to power, and his promise of social and economic reform. “But all I see now is the recent wave of arrests [of dissenters and activists]… I have left my home, my family and my job, and I am raising my voice. To do otherwise would betray those who languish in prison…,” he wrote.
He reminded his readers of Salman’s volatility, calling him “impetuous and reckless, ruthless, and intolerant of dissent.” In the same article, he also wrote on how the new leader has actually worsened relations with Lebanon, Iran, Syria, Yemen and Qatar, and locked hundreds of intellectuals and activists up while screaming “progressive”.
Here’s what what we know happened
A few days after Jamal’s mysterious disappearance inside the embassy, anonymous Turkish officials informed local media that he may have been murdered by a Saudi hit squad inside the consulate building, and his body was taken out in a black car. While that theory has not been backed by proof yet, the Istanbul police have launched a probe.
According to BBC, if Turkey is able to prove that Jamal was murdered in Istanbul, it could culminate in “the most serious diplomatic crisis between the countries in living memory”. The Guardian reported, “What investigators choose to make public over the coming days — and how — depends on behind-the-scenes negotiations between Ankara and Riyadh…”
Meanwhile, Riyadh called the charges baseless, and refused to explain what happened inside their consulate.
Excerpts from his columns
Over his prolific career, Jamal had been a friend to Osama bin Laden whom he met as a reporter in Afghanistan; in fact, he was one of the first to profile the al-Qaeda founder in 1988, but strongly criticised radicalism and religious extremism in his articles.
Writing for The Post in 2018, Jamal said, “We are being asked to abandon any hope of political freedom, and to keep quiet about arrests and travel bans… We are expected to vigorously applaud social reforms and heap praise on the crown prince while avoiding any reference to the pioneering Saudis who dared to address these issues decades ago…”
While speculation over his disappearance mounts, the role of the US at this juncture could be critical. Turkey, a NATO ally with an axe to grind with the US, is pitted against Saudi Arabia which is America’s closest ally in the Middle East. However, in this case, the US will be better off not siding with Saudi Arabia, in case it did have a role to play in Jamal’s disappearance.
Prarthana Mitra is a staff writer at Qrius.