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One year on, Khashoggi's friends seek justice at the scene of his murder

Saudi journalist's fiancee joined by activists, writers and Jeff Bezos outside the consulate he never emerged from
Hatice Cengiz, fiancee of the murdered Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, and Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon, embrace each other as they attend a ceremony marking the first anniversary of Khashoggi's killing at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul (Reuters)
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Istanbul

Friends of journalist Jamal Khashoggi held a vigil outside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Wednesday to mark the first anniversary of his brutal murder.

The Washington Post's owner Jeff Bezos and publisher Fred Ryan also made a surprise appearance, along with other speakers who talked about the importance of Khashoggi as a journalist and a human being.

The vigil outside the building he was killed and dismembered in was itself a summary of the current plight of civil rights defenders in the region, who are either under arrest, tortured or disappeared.

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Khashoggi, an outspoken critic of the Saudi government, was assassinated by a team of agents sent from Riyadh to kill him.

Though a UN probe and the CIA have concluded Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman almost certainly signed off on the Middle East Eye and Washington Post columnist's murder, Riyadh denies he was involved in the operation or its botched cover-up.

Many speakers at the vigil, such as Egyptian-American rights activist Mohamed Soltan, drew parallels with what happened to Khashoggi to the targeting and repressing of dissidents and free thinkers in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and beyond.

"[Dictators] can't stop oppressing, we can't stop resisting," Soltan said. 

The activist rejected the crown prince's recent denial of responsibility on major US television networks, saying "we don't have consultants to prep us for 60 Minutes", but noted that critics of authoritarians "have each other, good people around the world".

'Rest in power my friend, your legacy lives on'

- Mohamed Soltan, activist

In his impassioned speech, Soltan praised Khashoggi for standing up for imprisoned Saudi activists in a phone call with the man believed to have masterminded the journalist's murder - top royal aide Saud al-Qahtani.

"Rest in power my friend, your legacy lives on,” he said.

Wadah Khanfar, president of Al Sharq Forum and a close friend of Khashoggi, said even though the Saudi government wanted to make him disappear, the journalist's voice and image continue to chase dictators everywhere. 

“Today, one year later, the good news is the second phase of the Arab Spring has started. Jamal predicted this. And Jamal didn’t know that his murder would trigger something this huge,” he said.

Absent justice

Despite Riyadh's insistence that it is carrying out a full investigation and those responsible will face justice, Khashoggi's remains are yet to be found and the trial into the murder suspects is opaque and shrouded in mystery.

Agnes Callamard, the special rapporteur tasked by the United Nations with investigating the murder, was denied information and access to Saudi Arabia's probe and alleged prosecution of suspects.

“Justice must be served. Impunity of darkness must not win. We will not stop until the justice is served. We will not forget, or give up,” Callamard said at the Istanbul ceremony.

Mohammed bin Salman told media earlier this week that he was taking all responsibility for the murder as his kingdom's de facto ruler. 

'Justice must be served. Impunity of darkness must not win. We will not stop until the justice is served. We will not forget, or give up'

- Agnes Callamard, UN investigator

Yasin Aktay, an advisor to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan who was among the speakers, took a jab at this statement: "The people who say they are responsible for this murder still don’t tell us what they know about this murder, or what happened to the court case."

Others highlighted the need to do more for freedom of press all around the world in a time of rising right-wing populism. Erol Onderoglu, the Turkey representative for press freedom NGO Reporters Without Borders, took the opportunity to remind the gathering that 30 journalists are currently behind bars in Turkish prisons. 

Ryan, the publisher of Washington Post, urged free journalism to be Khashoggi's lasting legacy.

"If we remain vigilant in defence of press freedom, the work for which he gave his life can leave a lasting contribution to the world - in the form of deeper respect for liberty, human rights, and the truth," he said.

Bezos became emotional as he turned to Hatice Cengiz, Khashoggi's fiancee who was left waiting outside the Saudi consulate as he entered to get papers for remarriage but never emerged.

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"No one should ever have to endure what you have. Right here where you are today, you paced that street. For hours. Pacing. And waiting. And he never came out. It is unimaginable," Bezos said.

Earlier this year, Bezos's longtime security consultant accused Saudi Arabia of hacking the Washington Post owner's phone and accessing his data.

The Saudi government, Gavin de Becke wrote in March, has been intent on harming Bezos since the newspaper began its "relentless coverage" of Khashoggi's murder.

"You need to know, you are in our hearts," Bezos told Cengiz on Wednesday at the Istanbul commemoration. "We are here. You are not alone."

Cengiz was particularly touched by Bezos's words, and in tears spoke up. "I’m at peace when I see you all," she said. "Once again, I stand here but proud. I still seek justice."

Cengiz and other speakers later unveiled a marble monument outside the consulate dedicated to Khashoggi's memory.