Saudi journalist's disappearance sparks online criticism of Riyadh

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Social media users link vanishing of Jamal Khashoggi with recent arrests of Saudi activists and call on international organisations to take action

Khashoggi has been missing for more than 24 hours (AFP)
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Last update: 
Wednesday 3 October 2018 14:22 UTC
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From supporters to critics to colleagues, the disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi, a prominent Saudi journalist and Washington Post columnist, in Istanbul has set social media on fire.

Khashoggi was visiting the Saudi consulate in the Turkish capital on Tuesday to complete an application to obtain proof of his recent divorce so he could marry his new fiancée.

By Tuesday afternoon, when he failed to return from the appointment, Khashoggi’s fiancée, Hatice Cengiz, contacted Turkish authorities for help. 

A Saudi official told Reuters on Wednesday that reports that Khashoggi went missing inside the Saudi consulate "are false" and that he had exited the building shortly after requesting paperwork.

With reports of his disappearance came a wave of response on social media under the hashtag  - Arabic for 'JamalKhashoggiKidnapped'.

Many expressed concerns for Khashoggi, with some criticising the Saudi government for its recent crackdown on dissenting voices, while others suggested that those attacking Saudi Arabia were jumping to conclusions.

Some drew connections between his disappearance and the wave of arrests in the kingdom over the past year: 

Translation: The arrest of Mr Khashoggi appears to have followed waves of arrests of Saudi clerics, intellectuals, activists and businessmen during the past year as the country’s ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, sought to strengthen his control and oust the opposition'

Translation: The crackdown has not only been carried out against opponents at home, but also abroad, by pressuring them with several ways and means, including arresting relatives and people who are critical of the kingdom’s policy and its ruler abroad to exert more pressure on them #JamalKhashoggiKidnapped

Khashoggi, 59, the former editor-in-chief of Saudis newspapers al-Arab and Watan, was once considered to be close to the royal court.

But in September 2017, he fled the kingdom after he said Saudi authorities told him he was banned from writing and tweeting after telling an audience at the Washington Institute for Near Eastern Policy that Saudi Arabia should be "rightfully nervous about a Trump presidency".

"I have left my home, my family and my job, and I am raising my voice," he wrote in September 2017. "To do otherwise would betray those who languish in prison. I can speak when so many cannot."

Eli Lopez, senior editor of Global Opinions at the Washington Post, said the newspaper is "very concerned" about where Khashoggi may be after failing to reach him on Tuesday.

"We are monitoring the situation closely, trying to gather more information," Lopez told MEE in an email.

Some social media users have also called for immediate action from international organisations, or used the incident to raise awareness of critics of the Saudi government who have faced consequences for speaking out: