Saudi Arabia allows consulate search over missing journalist
ANKARA - Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Hami Aksoy said the investigation regarding missing Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was “continuing intensively” after Saudi authorities said they would allow their consulate in Istanbul to be inspected.
“The consulate building will be searched in the framework of the investigation,” Aksoy said in a written statement. However, the Foreign Ministry did not specify when the consulate would be searched.
The Washington Post published a surveillance image of Khashoggi walking into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul just before he disappeared. Unidentified Turkish officials leaked allegations to the media that the journalist was killed by a Saudi “hit team” in the consulate, which Saudi Arabia categorically denied.
The allegations fuelled speculation that members of the Turkish government were, for political reasons, leaking information before it could be verified.
David Kaye, a UN special rapporteur on freedom of expression, cautioned that any investigation into Khashoggi’s disappearance “should not be politicised.”
Qatari-financed media outlets and Islamist figures, such as Yemeni Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Tawakkol Karman, accused the Saudis of killing Khashoggi. Unnamed Turkish officials made similar accusations without providing evidence.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan refrained from confirming the allegations, saying he was awaiting the results of the investigation.
Erdogan’s senior adviser, Yasin Aktay, who in early media interviews championed the murder theory, later was quoted by the Guardian, a British newspaper, as saying: “The Saudi state is not blamed here.”
The pro-government Turkish newspaper Daily Sabah shifted its focus on the investigation to the theory that Khashoggi was smuggled alive out of Turkey.
Ties between Ankara and Riyadh are already at a low point over regional disagreements, including Turkey’s support for Qatar in its dispute with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf nations. Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) has affinities with the Muslim Brotherhood, considered a terrorist organisation by Saudi Arabia.
A surveillance image purporting to show Khashoggi entering the consulate was published October 9 in the Washington Post, for which he wrote a column. The image bore a date and time stamp, as well as a Turkish caption bearing Khashoggi’s name and that he was arriving at the consulate. The Post said “a person close to the investigation” shared the image.
It’s unclear which camera the footage came from or who operated it. However, several closed-circuit surveillance cameras are in the area. Friends of Khashoggi say Turkish police have taken possession of footage from the neighbourhood.
The Saudis have offered no surveillance footage or evidence to corroborate their stance, nor have Turkish authorities offered proof demonstrating why they believe Khashoggi was killed.
“If the story that was told about the murder is true, the Turks must have information and videotape and other documents to back it up,” Fred Hiatt, the Post’s editorial page editor, told the Associated Press. “If the story the Saudis are telling, that he just walked out… after half an hour, if that’s true, they ought to have facts and documents and evidence and tapes to back that up.”
Khashoggi had reportedly gone to the consulate in Istanbul for paperwork needed to marry his Turkish fiancee. He had been living in the United States in a self-imposed exile since last year, after the rise of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz.
Erdogan has urged the Saudis to back up their claim that Khashoggi left the consulate.
“Now when this person enters, whose duty is it to prove that he left or not? It is (the duty) of the consulate officials,” Erdogan said during a visit to Hungary. “Don’t you have cameras and other things? Why don’t you prove it, you have to prove it.”
Saudi commentators rejected such demands, saying the burden of proof for any unusual events near any diplomatic representation lies with the host country, in this case Turkey.
Saudi Ambassador to the United States Prince Khalid bin Salman bin Abdulaziz said in a statement that reports of Khashoggi being detained and killed in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul were “absolutely false and baseless.”
“Jamal has many friends in the kingdom,” including the ambassador, an e-mail from the Saudi Embassy in Washington stated. “And despite our differences and his choice to go into his so-called ‘self-exile,’ we still maintained regular contact when he was in Washington.”
Rumours about Khashoggi’s fate are “malicious” and “outrageous,” Prince Khalid said.
Saudi commentators questioned the sudden arrival of Khashoggi’s fiancee, Hatice Cengiz, into the picture. Previously unknown, she recently completed her master’s thesis on coexistence in Oman under the rule of Sultan Qaboos, information available on her Twitter account stated.
Her various tweets fuelled many interpretations in Saudi Arabia, where a large segment of social media users saw intent on the part of Qatar to foment a propaganda campaign against their country.
During an interview with Bloomberg News, Crown Prince Mohammed said: “We hear the rumours about what happened (to Khashoggi). He’s a Saudi citizen and we are very keen to know what happened to him. And we will continue our dialogue with the Turkish government to see what happened to Jamal there.”
The Guardian reported that Turan Kislakci, a friend of Khashoggi, said Khashoggi told him he had been invited to return to Riyadh by the Saudi crown prince to act as an adviser.
Khashoggi had been close to the Saudi government and diplomatic corps. He served as an adviser to Saudi intelligence services. During the last couple of years, he criticised Riyadh’s policies but reportedly remained loyal to the notion of “working for reform from within the system.”