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The View From Istanbul On Missing Saudi Journalist Jamal Khashoggi


Turkish officials have told some media outlets that a prominent Saudi journalist has been killed inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. The Saudis deny this. The journalist is Jamal Khashoggi. He's been a vocal critic of the Saudi government, and he's been living in Turkey in self-imposed exile.

Earlier today, we spoke to Dominic Evans. He's the Reuters bureau chief in Istanbul. And he says Khashoggi went into the Saudi consulate last week to get some documents for his upcoming marriage, and he never came out.

DOMINIC EVANS: And then by Saturday, four days after he went in there, we heard from Turkish sources that their initial assessment was that he had been killed inside the consulate in what they said was a premeditated murder.

CHANG: If that is true that the Saudi government has indeed killed Khashoggi, can you give us a sense of what he has written about that has so tremendously offended the Saudi government?

EVANS: Sure. I mean, it's important to remember that he's not always been seen as an opposition journalist. For many years, he was a newspaper editor in Saudi Arabia. He also worked as an adviser to a very prominent Saudi prince. But about a year ago, he left Saudi Arabia, saying he was worried about possible retribution for what he was writing. He has been critical of Saudi Arabia's foreign policy, including the war in Yemen. He has also criticized the Saudi leadership for its crackdown on dissent within the kingdom.

CHANG: I understand that Saudi diplomats gave you a tour of their consulate in Istanbul to try to prove to you and other reporters at Reuters that Khashoggi was not there. I'm curious. How convincing was that tour? Tell me about it.

EVANS: Well, it was certainly a very unusual event. As you say, we went to the consulate. We interviewed the consul general, who repeated what Saudi Arabia has always said - that Jamal Khashoggi went in on Tuesday and left shortly afterwards. He then showed us around the consulate. He said this was an extremely unusual move. They've never done this before, but they were trying to show that Jamal Khashoggi was not being held in the consulate. So they took us from the top to the bottom. And they even opened the cupboards and the air-conditioning vents.

CHANG: They opened the cupboards.

EVANS: Yes, to show that there was nothing suspicious there, exactly.

CHANG: But to show you that he's not there doesn't exactly disprove he hasn't been abducted and detained or killed somewhere else.

EVANS: I'm not a trained investigator. We weren't carrying out a search. But it was their attempt to show transparency, to show openness and to show cooperation.

CHANG: Now, Turkey's president has spoken out about this, saying that they will investigate. What is at stake for Turkey?

EVANS: Well, Turkey and Saudi Arabia have had pretty fraught relations over recent years. At the same time, it's been interesting that although we've heard from unnamed sources and an adviser to the president about this allegation, the president has not publicly come out and launched, you know, a full-scale criticism of Saudi Arabia. That's a reflection of, you know, the - you know, what may be at stake if there were a full-scale row between the two countries.

CHANG: If it is confirmed that the Saudis killed Khashoggi, how might that impact the U.S.' relationship with Saudi Arabia?

EVANS: Jamal Khashoggi was a U.S. resident - is a U.S. resident. He has written for The Washington Post. So there are U.S. connections there. It would also look pretty bad for the United States or any Western country not to take some kind of response to a country. And again, we're talking hypothetically now. This has not been proven. But if it is proven that Saudi Arabia did abduct or kill Jamal Khashoggi, that would, you know, put a lot of pressure on Western countries to condemn the action and take some kind of action in response.

CHANG: Dominic Evans is the Reuters bureau chief in Istanbul. Thank you very much for joining us.

EVANS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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