Disappearance of Saudi journalist being treated with utmost seriousness – Hunt

The UK, France and Germany have demanded a “complete and detailed response” from Saudi Arabia over the disappearance of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Reports claim the Washington Post columnist was killed while visiting the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, with Turkish authorities reported to have obtained audio and video recordings of the alleged murder.

Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt and his French and German counterparts said they had “grave concerns” about the situation and called for a credible investigation into what happened.

Jeremy Hunt and his French and German counterparts said they had 'grave concerns' about the situation (Peter Byrne/PA)
Jeremy Hunt and his French and German counterparts said they had 'grave concerns' about the situation (Peter Byrne/PA)

“Defending freedom of expression and a free press and ensuring the protection of journalists are key priorities for Germany, the United Kingdom and France,” the three ministers said.

“In this spirit, light must be shed on the disappearance of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, whose family has lost contact with him since October 2.”

Mr Hunt, France’s Jean-Yves Le Drian and Germany’s Heiko Maas said they were treating the incident with “the utmost seriousness”.

“There needs to be a credible investigation to establish the truth about what happened, and – if relevant – to identify those bearing responsibility for the disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi, and ensure that they are held to account,” they said.

“We encourage joint Saudi-Turkish efforts in that regard, and expect the Saudi Government to provide a complete and detailed response.

“We have conveyed this message directly to the Saudi authorities.”

The disappearance of Mr Khashoggi has placed the relationship between the Gulf kingdom and the West under intense strain.

US President Donald Trump has threatened “severe punishment” if authorities determine Saudi Arabia was behind Mr Khashoggi’s disappearance.

The Saudi government has dismissed the allegations against it as “baseless”.

The intervention by Mr Hunt and his allies followed criticism from Labour about the Government’s response.

Shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry said there had been “nothing but pusillanimous mutterings” from Mr Hunt on the issue.

“He is being outdone by Donald Trump, whoever would have thought that?” she said on the BBC’s The Andrew Marr Show.

“They’re playing catch-up with Donald Trump when it comes to condemnation of this and actually taking action and being prepared to stand firm.”

Ms Thornberry said the alleged murder was “yet more evidence of how the Saudi prince in particular appears to be out of control” and “this country has had enough”.

Commons Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Tom Tugendhat said on Saturday that the UK should work with its allies on its response, and that International Trade Secretary Liam Fox should boycott the Future Investment Initiative in Riyadh later this month if Saudi involvement in Mr Khashoggi’s disappearance was proved.

The Department for International Trade said: “The Secretary of State’s diary is yet to be finalised for the week of October 22, we will update on his activity in due course.”

A critic of Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Mr Khashoggi was living in self-imposed exile in the US and writing opinion pieces for the Washington Post before he vanished.

He visited the consulate on October 2 to obtain a document confirming he had divorced his ex-wife, in order to allow him to remarry.

Turkish officials have said he was killed on the premises and his body removed.