Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said he is hopeful about the fate of missing Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi amid reports that the critic may have been killed after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
Erdogan told reporters on Sunday that authorities were looking into all video surveillance footage of the mission’s entrances and monitoring all inbound and outbound flights since the writer disappeared on Tuesday.
“I am following the [issue] and we will inform the world whatever the outcome [of the official probe]”, Erdogan said.
“God willing, we will not be faced with a situation we do not want. I still am hopeful,” adding that “it is very, very upsetting for us that it happened in our country”.
Turkish sources told Reuters news agency on Saturday they believed Khashoggi was killed at the consulate in what they described as a “premeditated murder”.
An unnamed source inside the consulate was quoted by the official Saudi Press Agency as denying the claims, saying the accusations were “baseless”.
A leading critic of the Saudi government’s reform programme under the stewardship of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), Khashoggi had been living in self-imposed exile in the US for over a year.
Criticism of Saudi Arabia
Khashoggi, regular contributor to the Washington Post and former editor-in-chief of Al Arab News Channel, has been an outspoken critic of the Saudi regime.
“As we speak today, there [are] Saudi intellectuals and journalists jailed. Now, nobody will dare to speak and criticise the reforms [initiated by the crown prince],” he said, adding that “it would be much better for him to allow a breathing space for critics, for Saudi intellectuals, Saudi writers, Saudi media to debate”.
Asked whether Saudi Arabia could ever become democratic under Bin Salman, Khashoggi said: “Not on his watch. I haven’t heard him make even the slightest inference that he would open the country for power-sharing, for democracy.”
In his writings for the Washington Post, the Saudi commentator slammed Saudi policies towards Qatar and Canada, the war in Yemen, and a crackdown on dissent and the media in the kingdom.
‘Breach of sovereignty’
Marwan Bishara, Al Jazeera’s senior political analyst
The incident, if proven true, will be interpreted as a major breach of Turkey’s sovereignty.
Turkish-Saudi relations will worsen, even though it is very hard to imagine how those relations could get any worse.
For at least the past decade, certainly for the last three years, these relations have deteriorated in near all relevant issues to both countries within the region and outside it.
There is a huge leverage possible from Washington towards Riyadh if President Donald Trump wants to use it. Unfortunately, he has hesitated since his visit to Saudi Arabia at the outset of his tenure.
In fact, he considers them his best friends and he has been giving them his full support.
Saudi authorities barred Khashoggi from writing as a journalist when he was still in Saudi Arabia because he criticised Trump and his discourse towards the Muslim world.
Al Jazeera’s Jamal Elshayyal, reporting from Istanbul, said Turkish authorities are trying to walk a fine line so as not to damage relations between the two countries.
“There is an attempt by the Turkish government to try to find a way out of this whereby there isn’t a full collapse of diplomatic relations, at least a temporary freeze between Saudi Arabia and Turkey.
“Because, if indeed, Turkish authorities can prove unequivocally that Saudi agents essentially murdered a journalist inside the consulate in Istanbul, it would require some sort of strong reaction.”
Earlier on Saturday, sources told Al Jazeera that a delegation of 15 Saudi officials arrived in Turkey the day Khashoggi, 59, disappeared.
“The Saudi officials flew into Istanbul on two different flights on Tuesday,” Elshayyal quoted his sources as saying, adding that it was not clear if the Saudi delegation consisted of security or diplomatic officials.
On Friday, Turkey’s foreign ministry summoned Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Ankara over the issue.
Later that day, the crown prince said Saudi authorities would allow Turkey to search its consulate.
“We will allow them to enter and search and do whatever they want to do … we have nothing to hide,” Bin Salman told Bloomberg on Friday.
Saudi Arabia invited a group of journalists into the Istanbul mission on Saturday, in an effort to show that Khashoggi was not on the premises.
“I would like to confirm that … Jamal is not at the consulate nor in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and the consulate and the embassy are working to search for him,” consul-general Mohammad al-Otaiba told Reuters.
Khashoggi had entered the consulate’s premises at around 1pm (10:00 GMT) on Tuesday to secure paperwork in order to marry his Turkish fiancee, Hatice Cengiz.
Hatice said she waited outside after Khashoggi entered the Saudi consulate on Tuesday and never re-emerged. Following the initial announcement by Turkish sources of Khashoggi’s killing, she tweeted in Arabic her refusal to believe that is the case.
— Hatice Cengiz / خديجة (@mercan_resifi) October 6, 2018
Translation: Jamal was not killed and I do not believe that he has been murdered…!
‘Abysmal new low’
Rights groups have condemned the alleged murder of Khashoggi.
In a press release, Amnesty International said Khashoggi’s death “would set an abysmal new low”.
“Such an assassination within the grounds of the consulate, which is territory under Saudi Arabian jurisdiction, would amount to an extrajudicial execution. This case sends a shockwave among Saudi Arabian human rights defenders and dissidents everywhere, eroding any notion of seeking safe haven abroad,” Amnesty International’s Middle East Research Director Lynn Maalouf said.
“The Gulf Kingdom routinely uses draconian laws to crack down on peaceful dissent at home, and has even arrested dissidents abroad in the past. But the enforced disappearance – and now reported assassination – of one of its citizens who had sought asylum abroad should set alarm bells ringing,” Maalouf added.
“If the reports are true, they must immediately launch an independent investigation and those responsible, however high their rank or status, must face justice.”
Reporters Without Borders (RSF), an organisation said that if Khashoggi was indeed assassinated by Saudi authorities, it would constitute an “absolutely unacceptable assault on press freedom”.
If Turkish reports that @washingtonpost journalist and US resident @jamalkhashoggi was killed in Saudi Arabia's consulate in Turkey are confirmed, this would constitute a horrific, utterly deplorable, and absolutely unacceptable assault on press freedom https://t.co/FS3HYrHntH
— RSF in English (@RSF_en) October 6, 2018
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) also condemned the news, urging the Saudi authorities to “give a full and credible accounting of what happened to Khashoggi inside its diplomatic mission.”
Khashoggi’s suspected killing may further strain relations between Turkey and Saudi Arabia, who are on opposite sides of the multination blockade of Qatar and other regional crises.