Sean Penn sparks Saudi anger over reported Khashoggi documentary
Renowned Hollywood A-lister Sean Penn landed in Istanbul this week to shoot a documentary on the killing of Saudi dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi, local news reported, prompting a backlash from the kingdom’s media who suggested he is a Muslim Brotherhood sympathiser.
Penn, an Oscar-winning actor and famed director was seen filming outside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul where Khashoggi was killed and dismembered on October 2.
Turkish media, which has leaked damning evidence that implicates senior members of the Saudi government and royal family in the killing, said Penn filmed interviews with the slain journalists’ fiancee Hatice Cengiz, as well as his close associates.
Penn is also expected to meet with officials in Istanbul and Ankara, Daily Sabah reported.
The veteran journalist was a strong critic of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and had been resident in the United States, where he wrote about politics in Saudi Arabia and the Middle East for The Washington Post.
The Journal, the Post, and The New York Times have all reported that the CIA has evidence MbS exchanged 11 messages with his close aide Saud al-Qahtani, who allegedly oversaw the murder, just before and after it took place.
Saudi authorities have vehemently denied the crown prince had knowledge of the operation, although Riyadh has admitted he was killed at the Istanbul consulate.
|Riyadh has on several occasions used its media arm, as well as social media to attack, discredit and ostracise individuals who it deems a threat.|
Penn’s arrival in Istanbul prompted a strong backlash by Saudi media which almost instantaneously attempted to defame his history of activism.
In an article published by Al-Arabiya, Penn was bizarrely described as an activist who “favours leftists governments” linked to “causes affiliated to the Muslim Brotherhood” because of his stance in support of Argentina, “not England” over the Falkland Islands issue.
“He was also linked to Iran as he played a role in the release of two Americans who were imprisoned in Iran, in 2011,” Al-Arabiya wrote, noting “Penn is very pro-refugee, which is aligned to the “demographic Jihad” promoted by the Muslim Brotherhood,” referencing website building platform wordpress.com as the source.
Despite the peculiar attempts to defame the actor, Riyadh’s reaction is not out of the norm.
Riyadh has on several occasions used its media arm, as well as social media to attack, discredit and ostracise individuals who it deems a threat.
In the case of the Khashoggi killing, Riyadh unleashed an online army of bots to roll farm target dissidents opposed to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Riyadh's account of Khashoggi’s death - that he was involved in a brawl with 15 staff - was widely derided with many taking to Twitter to voice their disgust at Saudi Arabia's account.
The New York Times claimed that it was suspected Saudi Arabia embedded a spy in Twitter to monitor accounts that are critical of Riyadh.
Trolls in Riyadh then targeted the critics in a campaign of harassment that lasted several hours.
"The mornings were the worst for him because he would wake up to the equivalent of sustained gunfire online," one critic of the Saudi regime said.
Saud al-Qahtani, bin Salman's chief adviser, was sacked following the announcement of Khashoggi's death, when Saudi Arabia attempted to hint at a cover up by senior figures - but not the crown prince.
He was said to be the architect behind the online campaign that began with young men trawling through Twitter for critics for the kingdom.
On Wednesday, the chief prosecutor's office in Istanbul filed an application to obtain arrest warrants for Ahmad al-Assiri and Saud al-Qahtani, described as being "among the planners" of Khashoggi's murder.
A Turkish intelligence source told Reuters in October that Qahtani told his men to dispose of Khashoggi. "Bring me the head of the dog", the Turkish intelligence source says Qahtani instructed.
Writing for the Washington Post earlier this year, Khashoggi alleged Qahtani maintained a "blacklist" for writers critical of the kingdom and was known to intimidate them.
Assiri, said to be in his 60s, was a high-ranking advisor close to the royal court and often sat in during Prince Mohammed's closed-door meetings with visiting foreign dignitaries.
Prior to his promotion as the deputy head of general intelligence in 2017, Assiri served as the spokesman for the Saudi-led military alliance in Yemen which has been battling Houthi rebels since March 2015.
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