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London protesters ask 'Where is Jamal Khashoggi?' as pressure mounts on Riyadh

London protesters demand answers over disappearance of prominent Saudi journalist
Khashoggi went missing over a week ago and Turkish officials say he was killed inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul (MEE/Areeb Ullah)

Standing in the shadow of heavily armed police outside the Saudi embassy in London, activists and journalists demanded answers from Saudi Arabia over the disappearance of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Chanting "Where is Jamal, we want to know," at least a dozen protesters attended the demonstration on Wednesday, organised jointly by PEN International, Reporters Without Borders (RSF), and ALQST, a group that monitors human rights in the Gulf kingdom.

Some demonstrators held pictures of Khashoggi, while others carried placards with the phrase, "What happened to Jamal Khashoggi?" 

A prominent Saudi journalist and columnist for the Washington Post newspaper, Khashoggi hasn't been seen since last Tuesday, when he went to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to get paperwork done.

While the Saudi authorities have said Khashoggi left the building shortly after he arrived, Turkish sources told Middle East Eye he was killed inside the consulate.

Rebecca Vincent, the director of RSF's London office, said Saudi Arabia urgently needs to answer questions about his disappearance.

"It's quite frankly shocking that someone can go into consulate or a diplomatic mission and disappear," Vincent told MEE.

"We fear possibly the worst, but at the moment there has been no evidence to suggest otherwise."

15 Saudi journalists and bloggers arrested this year: RSF

RSF also released a report on Wednesday that found that at least 15 Saudi journalists and bloggers have been arrested over the past year.

Among them is Saleh al-Shihi, a Saudi journalist whose arrest was only confirmed in February when his family learned he had been sentenced to five years in prison, RSF said.

He disappeared in December, but his detention was not revealed until his conviction and sentence were announced, the organisation said.

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Economist and citizen-journalist Essam al-Zamel was also put on trial this month for criticising the Saudi government's economic strategy in a series of tweets and reports. It was only then that it was officially confirmed that al-Zamel had been in jail for the past year.

Another journalist and commentator, Turad al-Amri, has been missing since November 2016 after he tweeted his opposition to a government clampdown on Saudi media, including the decision to block an online newspaper for which he had written.

Fayez bin Damakh, another Saudi reporter and poet, has also been reported missing since September 2017. At the time, he was set to launch a television news channel in neighbouring Kuwait. Local press reports suggested he was abducted and taken to Saudi Arabia, though this has never been confirmed.

Jamal's disappearance is a signpost of a much broader, extraordinarily grave, human rights catastrophe unfolding in Saudi Arabia today

- Drewery Dyke, ALQST activist

Drewery Dyke, an activist with ALQST, noted the marked increase in the arrests of civil society activists following the ascension of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman.

"Jamal's disappearance is a signpost of a much broader, extraordinarily grave, human rights catastrophe unfolding in Saudi Arabia today," Dyke told MEE.

Dyke added that the way Bin Salman has been described a reformer of Saudi society is "dismaying".

"Tell us Saudi Arabia, where is Jamal Khashoggi and why was he taken?" he asked.

Between 25 and 30 professional and non-professional journalists are currently detained in Saudi Arabia, which is ranked 169th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2018 World Press Freedom Index.