Istanbul, Turkey – Activists and journalists agree that the disappearance of a prominent Saudi journalist after a visit to his country’s Istanbul consulate sends a “chilling” and “extremely distressing” message to dissidents and journalists from Saudi Arabia and all around the world.
Jamal Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist and critic of his government’s policies, entered the consulate to take care of paperwork on October 2 but never left the premises, according to the Turkish authorities.
He needed the documents in question to be able to marry his Turkish fiancee, who was waiting for him outside the building on the day of his disappearance.
Dana Ahmed, a Saudi Arabia researcher with Amnesty International, said that Khashoggi’s case “sends a shockwave” through the Saudi Arabian dissident community, both inside the country and abroad.
“[It] sends a chilling message to any dissident or human rights defender that they are not safe anywhere. It erodes any notion of safety from the authorities’ repression of dissent,” she told Al Jazeera.
Anonymous Turkish officials have described the incident as a “premeditated murder”, saying the journalist was killed inside the consulate and that his dismembered body was subsequently moved out of the building.
Saudi officials say the journalist left the consulate after his brief visit, rejecting the Turkish claims as baseless.
Meanwhile, Turkish media has shared photos, video footage and the identities of 15 Saudis who allegedly partook in the suspected assassination, all of whom reportedly travelled to Istanbul the day of Khashoggi’s visit to the consulate.
Authorities believe the group, which allegedly includes Saudi intelligence officers and a forensic expert, was sent to carry out the killing of the famed critic.
Turkey’s foreign ministry has said Saudi authorities would allow them to enter the consulate premises. However, the sides have been negotiating the nature of the visit, according to reports.
On Thursday, Turkey’s official Anadolu news agency reported a Turkish official as saying that Ankara and Riyadh will form a joint group to look into the case.
Dana Ahmed said that if reports about Khashoggi’s murder are true, the incident would be “an abysmal new low” for human rights in Saudi Arabia.
“Such an assassination within the grounds of the consulate, which is territory under Saudi Arabian jurisdiction, would amount to an extrajudicial execution,” she added.
Sezgin Tanrikulu, a Turkish human rights lawyer and member of parliament (MP), said that the “extremely distressing” incident is a case of “forced disappearance”.
“Forced disappearance is a crime against humanity. And the fact that this was committed against a dissident journalist in the middle of Istanbul is extremely distressing in terms of the security of journalists or anyone with views against government policies worldwide,” he told Al Jazeera.
Khashoggi, who in the past held management positions at Saudi newspapers and a short-lived television project, left Saudi Arabia in the summer of 2017.
He revealed later in his column for the Washington Post that he fled his country because he was afraid of being arrested in his home country.
The journalist has been critical of the Saudi authorities’ policies and crackdown on dissent, activists, businessmen, and some members of the royal family in 2017. He said that his people were asked “to abandon any hope of political freedom”.
The conflict in Yemen is another issue Khashoggi has disagreed with his government over, calling on Riyadh to end the “cruel war” and “to face the damage that resulted from more than three years of war”.
‘Stronger and louder’
Tawakkol Karman, the Yemeni journalist and Nobel Peace Laureate, told Al Jazeera that the attempt by Saudi Arabia to shut down Khashoggi failed.
“Jamal Khashoggi did a great job in telling the truth, as a well-known figure with a voice. He was very honest,” she said.
“They thought they would be able to silence him. However, the opposite happened. They made his voice stronger and louder. And they made him an icon for press freedom and expression rights,” she added.
Sherif Diab, an Egyptian activist, said that individual people and the international community must react firmly to what happened to Khashoggi.
“People disappear in the Middle East’s authoritarian countries all the time. We see it in Syria, we see it in Egypt, we see it in other ones. However, a journalist getting lost in a foreign mission is taking it one step further,” he said.
“If we do not show any reaction, we can be the next one disappearing,” he added.
The international condemnation of the disappearance of Khashoggi is gradually getting louder.
The United Nations, the United States and some members of the European Union have all called for a thorough investigation over the fate of the Saudi writer.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan described Khashoggi as a “journalist I knew for a long time” and a “friend,” and called for Saudi Arabian authorities to prove that he is alive.
On Wednesday, 22 bipartisan US senators sent President Donald Trump a letter, asking him to probe and potentially sanction Saudi Arabia in line with US human rights law for the disappearance and alleged murder of Khashoggi.
Trump said on the same day that he talked to Saudi Arabian officials at the highest levels about the disappearance of Khashoggi, adding that he wanted Washington to get to the bottom of the matter.