Saudi journalist and dissident Jamal Khashoggi has gone missing after visiting the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, sparking a diplomatic crisis between Turkey and Saudi Arabia. The Turkish government alleges that a Saudi “assassin team” arrived in Istanbul to murder and dismember Khashoggi, a critic of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The Saudi government maintains that Khashoggi safely left the building that day.
Even as the two countries have agreed to a joint investigation, the anger builds in Turkey. Turks are particularly outraged that Riyadh would dare carry out an extrajudicial rendition on their sovereign soil. Former Turkish prime minister and Justice and Development Party (AKP) leader, Ahmet Davutoglu, joined the criticism, tweeting, “The fate of Khashoggi is a test for the whole world with respect to freedom of expression and the press. Punishing a citizen just because of his/her criticism is incompatible with any human values.”
Unfortunately, these words ring hollow. Under Turkish strongman Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s rule since 2002, Ankara has imprisoned 535 members of the press, becoming the world’s top jailer of journalists in the process. Erdogan has called social media “the worst menace to society,” and suspended Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and WhatsApp on national security grounds, while permanently blocking Wikipedia. Moreover, Erdogan’s family members and business cronies have come to control seven key media conglomerates that now own 21 of Turkey’s 29 dailies, effectively capturing 90 percent of national circulation.
The country is no stranger to illegal renditions, either. In April, Turkey’s deputy prime minister announced that the country’s intelligence agency had snatched 80 citizens from 18 countries in covert operations. The real number could be over 100. From what is known of them, all were part of Ankara’s campaign to prosecute members of the Fetullah Gulen network, which authorities blame for launching the 2016 abortive coup d’état.
Ankara’s renditions have themselves caused international outrage. In one example, the kidnapping of six citizens from Kosovo led to a crisis in Pristina that ended with the dismissal of the interior minister and the head of intelligence. In another, a Turkish teacher who had lived in Mongolia for 24 years working at a local school narrowly escaped abduction after Mongolian officials grounded the plane that was to spirit him away. In Switzerland, authorities have issued a warrant for two Turkish diplomats for a foiled scheme to snatch a Swiss-Turkish businessperson.
There is also an ongoing U.S. investigation into a plot by senior Turkish government representatives to forcibly remove Fethullah Gulen from his home in the U.S., after 20 years of exile in Pennsylvania.
If Saudi authorities did murder Khashoggi, it would represent the culmination of a worrying trend in Saudi Arabia to repress even mild dissent, despite Riyadh’s stated commitment to reforms. But the outrage in Turkey should also be directed inward. The Erdogan government’s brutish methods have destroyed freedom of press in their own country, and Turkey’s citizens are not safe, both at home and abroad.
Aykan Erdemir is a former member of the Turkish parliament and a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Follow him on Twitter @aykan_erdemir.
Follow FDD on Twitter @FDD. FDD is a Washington-based, nonpartisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.