WASHINGTON, U.S. - At a time when the world is witnessing one of the most defining periods of political transition and right-wing populism is surging globally - a dangerous rhetoric has been craftily planted and propagated by authoritarian regimes.
The rhetoric aimed at questioning the credibility of the media, has managed to hit a nerve - as evidenced in the alarming series of attacks that have been perpetuated against journalists and media outlets around the world.
With the clampdown on journalists and press freedom growing globally, and an estimated 57 journalists being murdered and 155 being imprisoned so far this year - the growing hostility towards the media has raised concerns.
On October 2, when journalists and publications across the world heard about the mysterious disappearance of a renowned Saudi journalist, they chased the story, impassioned to unravel the fate of Jamal Khashoggi.
Who is Jamal Khashoggi?
Jamal Khashoggi has been both a friend and foe, for the ruling royal family of Saudi Arabia.
The 59-year-old Saudi journalist was once an adviser to senior Saudi officials and an important member of the royal court.
In 2017, Khashoggi left Saudi Arabia after a falling out with the new regime in Riyadh, that had set out on a mission to crush dissent at the time.
Championed by the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the crackdown on dissent led to frequent arrests of religious leaders, intellectuals, activists and even royals that are critical of his rule.
By then, Khashoggi had criticized some key Saudi policies and has even criticized both, King Salman and the Kingdom's young Crown Prince.
However, last year, his Saudi newspaper column was cancelled, following which he is believed to have been issued a warning to stop criticizing the crown prince's policies on Twitter.
Fearing retribution for his criticism of Riyadh, especially over the Yemen war and in view of the Kingdom's crackdown on dissent, Khashoggi decided to leave Saudi last year.
Since then, he had been living in the U.S. in self-imposed exile and had been working as a contributor at the Washington Post.
Where is Jamal Khashoggi?
Khashoggi found himself at the center of a diplomatic firestorm on October 2, when he put his concerns aside and entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, and has not emerged so far.
Leaving his Turkish fiancé outside and handing her both his mobile phones, Khashoggi entered the building to get some documents for his planned marriage.
However, as hours passed by, his fiancée got increasingly worried, since the prominent journalist never emerged.
Day turned into night, yet there was no sign of the journalist.
Dead or Alive?
Turkey initially sought answers from Saudi Arabia, which maintained its silence for more than a week after the incident caught steam globally.
Subsequently, Turkey’s state-owned Anadolu agency noted that Riyadh had invited Turkish experts and other officials to visit the consulate.
On Tuesday, Turkey’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Hami Aksoy said the investigation was “continuing intensively."
Aksoy added, “The consulate building will be searched in the framework of the investigation."
Still, Saudi authorities made no official comment.
Later, a report in Anadolu said that a private plane that had arrived from Saudi Arabia at Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport was searched.
It added that the search proved fruitless.
A report in Reuters quoted a Turkish security source as saying that a group of 15 Saudi nationals had arrived in Istanbul in two planes.
The source said that the men entered the consulate on the same day Khashoggi was there, and later left the country.
Then, Britain commented on the mystery over the journalist's fate and urged the Saudi government to explain what happened.
U.K. foreign minister Jeremy Hunt said on Twitter, “Just met the Saudi ambassador to seek urgent answers over Jamal Khashoggi."
He also wrote, “Violence against journalists worldwide is going up and is a grave threat to freedom of expression. If media reports prove correct, we will treat the incident seriously - friendships depend on shared values."
A brutal retribution?
A Turkish official has stated that Khashoggi was killed inside the building and removed.
Authorities told Reuters that they believe Khashoggi has been killed and his body, possibly dismembered and that he has been transferred out of the building.
On Wednesday, Turkey’s Sabah newspaper featured the country's most detailed accounts of Khashoggi’s disappearance, carried based on Turkish government’s investigation.
The report featured the name and photo of one of the 15 Saudis identified.
It said that the man's LinkedIn profile and Saudi media reveal that the man was a forensic expert who has worked at the Saudi Interior Ministry for 20 years.
The man was also said to be serving on the board of the Saudi Society of Forensic Medicine.
The newspaper also revealed other names and photos of the 15 people that it said had travelled on diplomatic passports.
Many of them were match officers in the Saudi Army and Air Force.
Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has claimed that Khashoggi left the consulate shortly after the visit.
Further, the Saudi Ambassador to the U.S. was quoted as saying that he "condemns ‘malicious leaks and grim rumors’ surrounding Khashoggi disappearance."
He added that "the reports that suggest that Jamal Khashoggi went missing in the Consulate in Istanbul or that the Kingdom’s authorities have detained him or killed him are absolutely false, and baseless."
This is SERIOUS
On Wednesday, the U.S. President Donald Trump increased pressure on Saudi Arabia, and told reporters at the Oval Office that he had raised Khashoggi’s case with Saudi Arabia “at the highest level.”
Trump said, “We’re demanding everything. We want to see what’s going on. It’s a very serious situation for us and for this White House ... We want to get to the bottom of it.”
Further, 22 U.S. senators triggered a U.S. investigation of whether human rights sanctions should be imposed over the disappearance of Khashoggi.
The senators said they had triggered a provision of the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act in a letter.
Adding that the act requires the president to determine whether a foreign person is responsible for a gross human rights violation.
The Senators wrote, “Our expectation is that in making your determination you will consider any relevant information, including with respect to the highest ranking officials in the Government of Saudi Arabia."
The letter added, “The recent disappearance of Saudi journalist and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi suggests that he could be a victim of a gross violation of international recognized human rights."