THE accounts doing the rounds of senior Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s possible murder in the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul are chilling.
While authoritarian governments the world over have no qualms about killing dissidents — including journalists — the details swirling around Mr Khashoggi are reminiscent of the dark ages.
The facts up till now are that the self-exiled Saudi writer went inside his country’s consulate over two weeks ago to get documents, leaving his Turkish fiancée at the door, and has not been heard from since.
While Riyadh has strenuously denied any knowledge of his fate, media outlets have painted a more gruesome picture: they say a hit squad consisting of Saudi intelligence operatives flew into Istanbul and killed Mr Khashoggi within the consulate, with some outlets claiming his body was dismembered. Because of Mr Khashoggi’s prominence as a Washington Post columnist and the grisly speculation surrounding his disappearance, there has been an international outcry, with calls for the Saudis to explain what happened to the journalist.
The seriousness of the matter can be gauged from the fact that President Donald Trump dispatched the US secretary of state to Saudi Arabia to discuss the matter with the king and crown prince.
Mr Trump’s response to the matter has wavered; from initially saying that the Saudis would face “severe punishment” if they were found involved, he has since tweeted that Riyadh has “totally denied any knowledge” of the matter.
While one should not jump to conclusions before all the facts are available, the burden of proof is on Saudi Arabia to establish that Jamal Khashoggi left the consulate of his own volition.
If it is confirmed that some elements within Saudi intelligence were involved in his disappearance and possible murder, it would prove true the criticism that reforms initiated by the Saudi crown prince are cosmetic, and the same old authoritarianism persists in the kingdom’s power corridors.
Mr Khashoggi was no radical reformist; hailing from a well-connected Saudi family of Turkish origin, he had for long enjoyed access to some of the most powerful members of the House of Saud.
However, it was his mild criticism of Mohammed bin Salman’s policies that apparently made him fall out of the crown prince’s favour. And while Mr Khashoggi’s case has been highlighted internationally, it should be remembered that scores of other activists and intellectuals remain incarcerated in Saudi Arabia for criticising the government.
It is, therefore, critical that Riyadh shares the facts about Jamal Khashoggi.
Published in Dawn, October 18th, 2018