On October 2, Jamal Khashoggi entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to obtain paperwork in order to get married to his Turkish fiancée. The Saudi journalist and dissident hasn’t been seen or heard from since then, though there has been no shortage of morbid speculation about his fate.
Saudi Arabia has hardly been a beacon of press freedom at the best of times. But the new crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, ushered in an era of optimism, allowing Saudi women to drive for the first time and unveiling a plan to modernize the kingdom’s economy and wean it off its overreliance on oil exports. Yet as the Committee to Protect Journalists noted last month, the climate in this “new” Saudi Arabia is even more repressive for journalists. That’s what prompted Khashoggi, a longtime insider, to leave the country and write critically about it. According to Reporters Without Borders, the media-watchdog group also known as RSF, more than 15 people in Saudi Arabia have been detained since last September, and “in most cases, their arrests have never officially been confirmed and no official has ever said where they are being held or what they are charged with.”
But even in this climate, the speculation about Khashoggi’s fate is exceptional. Rob Mahoney, the deputy executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists, told me that if it turns out that Khashoggi was butchered inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, as has been widely reported, “then, yes, it’s an escalation as far as journalists are concerned.”