The disappearance of one of the kingdom’s most articulate critics is concerning at a time when the press is everywhere under threat
“Many Arabs who seek freedom, equality and democracy feel defeated,” wrote the Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi in August. “They have been portrayed as traitors by pro-government media and abandoned by the international community.” Mr Khashoggi, who has written for the Guardian, is one such Arab. For more than three decades he has used his voice as a commentator, and position as an editor, to advocate for social and political reform in Saudi Arabia and the wider Middle East. Just over a year ago, in his first column for the Washington Post, he wrote of his anguish following a wave of arrests that included several of his friends – and explained that repression at home lay behind his decision to go into exile. This week Mr Khashoggi vanished in Istanbul, after entering the Saudi consulate there on Tuesday because he needed documents to marry his Turkish fiancee. The international community must call the Saudi authorities to account, demand proof that he left the consulate as they claim, and show that Mr Khashoggi has not been abandoned.
These are dark times for press freedom globally. The number of reporters imprisoned and killed has risen. The independence and diversity of the media in many countries is diminishing. New commercial pressures and the growth of the internet at the expense of news publishers are part of the explanation. So are the resurgence of authoritarian politics, and anti-democratic attacks on “fake news”. Turkey has seen some of the harshest repression, which intensified after the attempted coup against President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in 2016, with titles closed down and many journalists put in prison.