The fiancée of missing Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi said statements made by Saudi officials were “neither enough nor satisfying”.
In an exclusive interview to Anadolu Agency, Hatice Cengiz said there is smear campaign going on across Saudi Arabia, “which is run by news agencies supported by Saudi regime and troll accounts”.
“This is utterly saddening. Just these smear campaigns and reflexes against me is showing that there are a lot of suspects in this case.”
Khashoggi, who is one of the most influential journalists in the Middle East and a Washington Post columnist, entered the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2. He has not been seen again.
According to Turkish police, while Khashoggi was inside, 15 Saudis, including several officials, arrived in Istanbul on two planes and entered the consulate.
Istanbul prosecutors are investigating the incident, while the consulate said on Twitter that it was working in coordination with Turkish authorities.
Turkey on Monday conveyed its expectation of “full cooperation” from Saudi Arabia in the search for the missing journalist.
Saudi Arabia on Tuesday invited Turkish experts and relevant officials to visit the consulate, according to diplomatic sources.
Question: “What were the hesitations of your fiancée the day you went to the Consulate? Why did he tell you to call Yasin Aktay and Turan Kislakci if he did not come back?”
Hatice Cengiz: Jamal was not that hesitant in our second trip to consulate on Oct. 2. Because his first visit to the Consulate on Sept. 28 was positive. They hosted him well in the consulate and congratulated him because we were getting married. He left the consulate happy and relaxed after his first visit. He even said to me that they were surprised to see him there. There was no negative response regarding the required documents that he needed to receive as well. They told him that they would help him. All of this may have led him not to be hesitant on his second visit to the consulate. Besides, if I had seen him worried of course I would have prevented him from going to the consulate again. All in all, he can analyze what was going on inside better than me. He did not mention any of his worries to me before his second visit. One time, I asked him whom should I get in contact with if there was any unexpected problems that he might face or an issue regarding his political stance about his country. He told me Yasin Aktay is an old friend of his and I can call him. And I know that Turan Kislakci and him are close friends. I called them because of that. He did not especially advise me to call Turan Kislakci.
‘I experienced a great fear that I never experienced before in my life’
Question: It was the second visit he paid to the consulate in the last a few days. What did he talk about, why he was given another appointment for a few days later and did you enter the consulate with him?
Hatice Cengiz: As I said, we went to the consulate on Friday Sept. 28 for the first time. We went there to request two documents for marriage procedures, the single status certificate and copy of the birth certificate. The same day, Jamal excused himself after waiting for an hour for his trip to London. He informed them that he would return from London on Tuesday and he would visit the consulate on that day again. In both our visits, I did not enter inside. Those, who do not have anything to do in the consulate are not allowed [inside even] as a companion. Only those who have business inside can enter. And this was what we were told at the door. So I waited outside during both of the visits. When he said he wanted to come again, the relevant people probably said something like ‘We will get the documents ready for when you come’ and when I asked him ‘Are we going to retrieve the documents?’, he said ‘They talked positively, I hope they will give them’.
Question: What did you think when he went inside and did not come out? With what concerns did you call Yasin Aktay and others?
Hatice Cengiz: I experienced a great fear that I never experienced before in my life. The world started to turn around my head and I was confused about what to do. After messaging my best friend to come immediately, I ran toward the iron fence of the consulate and I asked the security guard there whether Jamal had left the building or not. The security guard looked at me with surprised eyes and said he did not know who Jamal was, that there was no one inside and everybody had left. Following this answer, I called the consulate. I told them that I was waiting outside, that Jamal went inside at 1.00 p.m. and that he did not come out the door. The officer hung up and came to the door where I was waiting. He told me that he had checked all the rooms and there was no one inside; so it was pointless for me to wait there. At this answer, I blacked out and I immediately called Yasin Aktay and in a rush, I told him about the situation. After Mr. Yasin, I called Turan Kislakci, as well. Right after the security forces heard about it, it was heard on the media as well.
‘There was no movement that was out of the ordinary’
Question: While Mr. Khashoggi was inside, after he entered and the consulate was closed, did you witness any movement in the comings and goings that was out of the ordinary? Were there any unusual vehicles, people leaving the consulate?
Hatice Cengiz: There was no movement that was out of the ordinary. Also, the consulate is already located by the street, and entries and exists are by a narrow road. There is usually a traffic jam and many official consulate vehicles are parked. So there was a congestion in front of the consulate. I remember people coming in and out, but I would have asked them if I had noticed anything unusual. I also thought that traffic flowed normally because I did not have the slightest thought that there might be a disappearance or a kidnapping.
Question: Mr. Khashoggi went to the Istanbul Consulate to carry out official procedures related to the marriage. Why did he prefer Turkey, but not the U.S.? Could he not do these procedures at the Saudi Arabia Consulate in the U.S.? Is there any special reason for him to choose Istanbul?
Hatice Cengiz: I did not ask him ‘Why don’t you take the document from the U.S.?’, because the marriage was going to be held here. There is no information saying that the document taken from that consulate is valid here. And when we went to the marriage registry office, the officer said that a foreigner getting married could only get the document from the consulate of that country, where the marriage takes place. I do not know if he had made another attempt regarding this issue before coming to our country. But if he had done, he would have told me. Or if he had asked about it and got a negative answer, he would have said that too. On the other hand, Riyadh’s ambassador to Washington said: ‘We talked to Jamal at a program last year, he was a columnist who criticized the Saudi government at a reasonable level’. This was reported by agencies in the late hours of yesterday [Tuesday]. I am sure that if he had asked for the documents he needed from them, I guess the ambassador would say that in his statement. As a result, he wanted to do the procedures here, as he thought it would be done faster and easer in this country.
‘Overall, these statements are not consistent’
Question: Word could not be received from Mr. Khashoggi after he entered the consulate. Different scenarios are being put forth. In your opinion, what may have happened? Did you find the statements made by Saudi Arabia to be satisfying? What are your thoughts?
Hatice Cengiz: Many possibilities are being spoken of. Like everybody else, I am following [the issue] in the press. Since I was with him at the time, the news that he had entered the consulate was certain. However, this image that was published in newspapers yesterday [Tuesday] serves as strong evidence against those who claim that he never entered the building. Now, the other side must present proof that Jamal exited the building. This is because they have alleged that he entered the building and left a short time after. Later, they said that the [security] cameras were not working while Jamal was there. What consulate in the world has cameras that do not work? What’s more, we are talking about a critical country like Saudi Arabia. Moreover, they shared the information that the cameras were not working on the day in question many days after the fact. Overall, these statements are not consistent. Also, the Saudi ambassador was for the first time called to the Foreign Ministry. On the first of these meetings that yielded no results, permission to enter the consulate was requested. Furthermore, I find the statements coming from the Saudis to be neither sufficient nor convincing. Also, a severe smear campaign has been initiated in Saudi Arabia against myself. This is being carried out by both Saudi-supported news agencies and [internet] trolls. This is, of course, quite saddening. Such reflexes alone show that there is much suspicion about the issue. On the other hand, diplomatic proceedings are being held between our country and the consulate since the beginning of the matter as if this is a normal event that is happening. While I am bewildered by this, I believe the administration is acting this way because it has a specific strategy. Progress is very slow but relevant government officials are conducting a serious investigation. A conclusion will be reached based on all documents and inquiries. This conclusion will be revealed to the public if its supporting evidence is strong. It is my opinion that an event unlike anything seen in the 21st century has come to pass. It is a critical period for our country. Journalists are not acting with the same caution we see in state officials. Going on ambiguous information, a few reporters claimed that he has died, and were later unable to prove this. The world was first told that Jamal Khashoggi died and then that it was not certain. Such news is quite difficult for loved ones. I believe that, in any case, Saudi Arabia’s relations with other countries will be severely damaged, particularly those with Turkey. Such an undertaking outside the rules of diplomacy and the rule of law in our country against their own citizen will certainly not be left unanswered and the necessary response will be given.
‘This investigation will definitely reveal something’
Question: Saudi Arabia allowed Turkey to carry out an investigation in the consulate. What do you think about this permission to be given several days after his disappearance. Do you think it will reveal something?
Hatice Cengiz: I do not think that the Turkish state only depends on information or documents that it will have within the consulate. Right now the entries and exits to the country are controlled and suspicious footage is being investigated. Therefore, the information/documents that they will gather before the consulate investigation will have a speedy impact on the case. This investigation will definitely reveal something. Besides, the statement from the consulate saying that the cameras were not recording that day makes the issue suspicious from the start.
‘I do not believe that the consulate building was especially chosen’
Question: In the case that the Saudi regime wanted to silence Mr. Khashoggi for his critical articles, why would they choose the consulate in particular? Does the choice of time and place seem peculiar to you as well?
Hatice Cengiz: Nobody really knows the real reason behind this. It looks like they were more uncomfortable than it seemed with the stance that he exemplified and his international popularity than by his existence alone. Even if the accusations are accurate I do not believe that the consulate building was especially chosen. He — a person critical of them — had come on his own accord. They may have wanted to turn this into an opportunity. I think that this was an idea someone had that moment. It seems that they then immediately began the planning phase. There is also a message here meant for our country. There is an effort to undermine our sovereignty and the general perception that we are a safe country, as there are many writers and intellectuals in our country who come from the Arab world. This incident is cause for a large crisis leading to a political erosion of trust. The government will take the necessary diplomatic and political steps after what happened is brought to light. To me, the really important point is that Saudi Arabia is not experiencing a normal transition. It is not seeking agreement and contact with Turkey, which it sees as a rival in the region. Each new crisis hurts the relations that are already at a critical level. Saudi-Turkish relations have been most drastically affected by all the crises in the region despite [such a crisis] never occurring between the two countries. There are many divergences in strategy that are points of conflict between the two countries including the Egyptian coup, the Qatar crisis, the Yemen war and Syria. Because of this reason, Saudi Arabia is trying to display a power play, just to overcome the transformation it’s going through, especially as it has far from friendly relations with Turkey, the region’s most powerful country. However, if the incident occurred and the allegations are indeed true, then Saudi Arabia will have committed an assassination on its own territory. In bloodying its hands on our soil and violating international law, it is making its own image more ambiguous. The Saudis are now receiving many negative messages from the world after looking to send us a message. When the facts come to light, I believe the international pressure will continue.
Question: Have government authorities informed you on the ongoing investigation and process? Has there been any contact with Saudi Arabia?
Hatice Cengiz: Our country’s authorities are following the matter. Our president is himself following the case. I am also in contact with them. I was informed on a number of points. However, the investigation is ongoing. For that reason, official statements have not yet come. I have never had any contact with the other side.