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Concern Grows After Internationally Known Saudi Commentator Goes Missing


An internationally known Saudi commentator has gone missing. Jamal Khashoggi reportedly disappeared after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Tuesday. There's growing concern the columnist, who's a vocal critic of Saudi Arabia's government, may have been detained by Saudi officials. The State Department says it is following the situation closely. NPR's Jackie Northam reports.

JACKIE NORTHAM, BYLINE: For the past year, Jamal Khashoggi has been a columnist with The Washington Post. The newspaper says early Tuesday afternoon, he entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to file some papers necessary to get married. His fiancee waited outside for him until early evening, but Khashoggi never emerged. Turkey's presidential spokesman, Ibrahim Kalin, said on Wednesday, Khashoggi remains in the consulate and that the Turkish government raised the issue with the Saudis. But an official with the Saudi Embassy in Washington, D.C., was adamant Khashoggi was neither in the consulate nor in custody.

The incident is raising concern that Khashoggi may have been caught up in Saudi Arabia's recent crackdown on free speech. He had spent decades covering the twists and turns of Saudi Arabia's royal family, often supporting the government's actions - that is, until he apparently fell out of favor with Saudi Arabia's new crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman. During an interview with NPR in May, Khashoggi said life in Saudi Arabia had become repressive. The government began rounding up activists and businessmen.


JAMAL KHASHOGGI: Hundreds of Saudis - many of them I know are in jail when there is no room for freedom of expression, no tolerance for independent opinions.

NORTHAM: Khashoggi became an outspoken critic of the crown prince. After some of his colleagues were arrested, Khashoggi left Saudi Arabia and moved to Washington, where he continued to write tough commentaries about the government. Khashoggi said the choice for self-exile was hard but ultimately the right decision.


KHASHOGGI: I'm 60 years old. I don't feel like going to spend the rest of my life in jail. It's not the right choice. And thank goodness that I made the right decision to leave.

NORTHAM: Even though he was in Washington, Khashoggi felt the long arm of the Saudi government.


KHASHOGGI: Even when I speak to you, I feel somebody over my shoulder. I have family back in Saudi Arabia. I have friends. And the government is having a heavy hand on us.

NORTHAM: And it just may have followed Khashoggi to Istanbul. Jackie Northam, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF TYCHO'S "MELANINE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.