BY Evan Denny
On Oct. 2, Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi Arabian columnist for the Washington Post, was last seen entering the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, Turkey. Turkish officials have said they fear a Saudi hit team killed and dismembered Khashoggi, who wrote critically of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
As of Oct. 19, Saudi state-run media is reporting that prosecutors in the kingdom believe Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi was killed in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul in a quarrel.
“After weeks of denying any knowledge of what happened to Mr. Khashoggi, Saudi authorities say that the Saudi journalist has died in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, after a ‘fist fight’ with Saudi officials,” said Dr. Isil Akbulut-Gok, professor in the Department of Government who specializes in Middle Eastern politics.
President Donald Trump said the oil-rich kingdom deserves “severe punishment” if it is responsible for the disappearance and suspected murder of Khashoggi. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo traveled to Saudi Arabia to talk to King Salman and the 33-year-old crown prince about the fate of the journalist.
“The Crown Prince has been viewed with much excitement in Saudi Arabia and indeed throughout the world,” said Joseph Alicastro, a media arts professor at Sacred Heart University and a 30-year plus veteran Producer of NBC News. “With some reservations, he has been seen as a reformer, moving Saudi Arabia in a more democratic direction, opening movie theaters and allowing women to drive and attend athletic events. He also has set out on an ambitious economic and education program called Vision 2030.”
While Saudi Arabia fired officials close to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the kingdom stopped short of implicating the heir-apparent of the world’s largest oil exporter.
“Saudi Arabia is a key ally of the United States in the Middle East. The US-Saudi alliance dates back to 1933 centered on oil exploration,” said Akbulut-Gok. “The Kingdom is the largest foreign military sales customer of the United States.”
The Turkish pro-government newspaper Yeni Safak, citing what it described as an audio recording of Khashoggi’s slaying, said a Saudi assassination squad seized the journalist after he entered the consulate, cutting off his fingers and later decapitating him. The newspaper also said the assassination squad from the kingdom including an official from Prince Mohammed’s entourage and an “autopsy expert” flew in ahead of time and laid in wait for Khashoggi at the consulate.
The kingdom offered a different version of events than those given by Turkish officials. Beyond its statements attributed to anonymous officials, Saudi Arabia offered no evidence to support its claims.
“I think it is very important that a full and transparent investigation into the death of this courageous journalist be made known publicly after it has been concluded,” said Alicastro. “In the end, the truth must be disclosed.”
The Saudi statements did not identify the 18 Saudis being held by authorities. The statement also did not shed any light on what happened to Khashoggi’s body after his death.
Human rights groups like Amnesty International have been calling for a United Nations investigation into Khashoggi’s killing.
“Even though Saudi Arabia’s human rights abuses and its theocratic regime went against the American values, the United States, for the most part, has supported, and is likely to support Saudi Arabia,” said Akbulut-Gok.
The Washington Post published Khashoggi’s final column on Oct. 17. The following are excerpts from the article:
Karen Attiah, Global Opinions editor for the Washington Post, said, “This is the last piece of his I will edit for The Post. This column perfectly captures his commitment and passion for freedom in the Arab world. A freedom he apparently gave his life for.”
“My dear friend, the prominent Saudi writer Saleh al-Shehi, wrote one of the most famous columns ever published in the Saudi press. He unfortunately is now serving an unwarranted five-year prison sentence for supposed comments contrary to the Saudi establishment,” said Khashoggi. “These actions no longer carry the consequence of a backlash from the international community. Instead, these actions may trigger condemnation quickly followed by silence.”
“As a result, Arab governments have been given free rein to continue silencing the media at an increasing rate. There was a time when journalists believed the Internet would liberate information from the censorship and control associated with print media,” said Khashoggi.
“The Arab world needs a modern version of the old transnational media so citizens can be informed about global events. More important, we need to provide a platform for Arab voices. We suffer from poverty, mismanagement and poor education. Through the creation of an independent international forum, isolated from the influence of nationalist governments spreading hate through propaganda, ordinary people in the Arab world would be able to address the structural problems their societies face,” said Khashoggi.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.