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Turkey blocks Saudi-owned Okaz, Independent Turkish in escalating media war

Relations between the two states have worsened since 2018 [Getty]

Date of publication: 19 April, 2020

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Turkey and Saudi Arabia have since last week engaged in a tit-for-tat blocking of prominent media websites.
Turkish authorities have reportedly blocked access to the Saudi-owned Turkish edition of The Independent and the prominent state-owned Okaz platform, after a Saudi prince called on Riyadh to use the publication against Ankara, the latest in rising tensions between the two states.

Turkey's move against Saudi media came just days after the kingdom itself blocked two prominent Turkish news sites, Turkey's official Anadolu and TRT Arabic, following an online campaign calling for action against the platforms.

That was shortly followed by a column published by prominent Saudi Prince Bader bin Saud in the state-owned Okaz urging authorities to use the Turkish edition of The Independent for anti-Turkey Saudi propaganda.

"Blocking media sites is useful as a temporary solution but we should look for something more permanent," the Saudi royal said, referring to the banning of Anadolu and TRT Arabic. 

"Perhaps the most appropriate approach would be to reciprocate the Turks and transfer the battle to the opponent's land by working to find Arabic-language Turkish media platforms, and rushing to operate the Turkish-edition of The Independent, whose rights were acquired by the Saudi Research and Publishing Group nearly a year ago," Bader bin Saud added. 

The owner of the Turkish and Arabic-language editions of the UK-owned platform is notably a close ally of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, whose involvement in the 2018 murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the kingdom's Istanbul consulate has considerably stained relations between the two states.

Turkish prosecutors last month charged 20 suspects, including two former top aides to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman over the brutal 2018 murder of Riyadh critic Khashoggi.

Turkish prosecutors accuse Saudi Arabia's deputy intelligence chief Ahmed al-Assiri and the royal court's media tsar Saud al-Qahtani of leading the operation against Khashoggi and giving orders to a Saudi hit team. 

Turkey carried out its own investigation after being unhappy with Saudi Arabia's explanations. 

The Istanbul prosecutor's office said in a statement that Assiri and Qahtani were charged with "instigating the deliberate and monstrous killing, causing torment".

The murder caused relations between Ankara and Riyadh -  longstanding rivals - to worsen. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has vowed Ankara will not give up the case and said Riyadh would pay the price.

"This happened in my country, how am I not going to follow up on that? Of course I'm going to follow up. This is our responsibility," Erdogan told Fox News last year.

Saudis, who enjoy investing and holidaying in Turkey, were urged to boycott the country last year in a massive social media drive branded as a patriotic act of duty.

Read more: Mohammed bin Salman: The rise to power of Saudi Arabia's Machiavellian prince

Turkey meanwhile is a key backer of Qatar, especially after a Riyadh-led economic blockade began against the Gulf state in 2017, and is accused of supporting groups including the Muslim Brotherhood and Iran.

Saudi Arabia views both the Brotherhood and Iran as an existential threat. 

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