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Arab Spring hope fades with Jamal Khashoggi death, if 'worst' is true: Mohamed Fahmy

'Accountability is a must,' says investigative journalist Mohamed Fahmy, of his friend Jamal Khashoggi's killing.

'It's a terrifying message. As journalists or people who have different views, we are never safe'

Three years ago, Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi is pictured speaking during a news conference in Manama, Bahrain. He disappeared Oct. 2 in Turkey. (Hasan Jamali/Associated Press)

Egyptian-born Canadian Mohamed Fahmy says he's spent weeks struggling to accept the chilling stories that have emerged about the disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi  — his friend, past supporter and fellow journalist.

Now, he's urging a UN investigation into the alleged murder — and urging Turkish intelligence officials to make proof of exactly what did happen public, if the information exists.

Khashoggi vanished Oct. 2.

Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood

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Sasa Petricic takes a closer look at a big contender in Egypt's elections - the Muslim Brotherhood. 2:28

The Saudi journalist-turned-American was seen on video heading into the Saudi Arabian consulate in Turkey, never re-emerging.

Two weeks later, the Saudi kingdom said the 59-year-old died in a "fist fight" after being put into a choke hold inside the consulate where he went to get marriage paperwork.

Saudi authorities say 18 suspects are in custody and intelligence officials have been fired.

They denied, as "baseless," Turkish media leaks that Khashoggi was tortured, killed and dismembered.

Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said on Saturday that Saudi Arabia's "explanations offered to date lack consistency and credibility" and called for a thorough investigation. 

Fahmy says he's shaken.

"No man should go through the torment that is happening at the moment to his family and to his community," said Fahmy in a phone call to CBC from the Middle East where he said every cab driver talks about the alleged assassination.

People hold signs during a protest outside of the Embassy of Saudi Arabia in Washington over the disappearance of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The Washington Post writer hasn't been seen since he entered the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2. (Jacquelyn Martin/Associated Press)

"If the worst has happened, then it's a terrifying message that as journalists or people who have different views, we are never safe," he said.

Fahmy says it is crucial that proof of what happened, and of Khashoggi's death, is brought forward.

"Accountability is a must."

Fahmy is speaking from a hotel room after a long day shooting his documentary, his voice husky with fatigue as he struggles to find the remote to shut off the news.

He fears revealing his location.

"It's such a tragedy what we are seeing right now and it really has instilled fear in many people,"said Fahmy.

He includes himself.

'It's such a tragedy what we are seeing right now and it really has instilled fear in many people,' says journalist Mohamed Fahmy of his friend Jamal Khashoggi's disappearance and alleged murder. Fahmy, an Egyptian-born Canadian journalist was held for a year in a Cairo prison, (Ahmed Abd El Latif, El Shorouk Newspaper/Associated Press)

Fahmy became a freedom of expression advocate after his own imprisonment.

But he met Khashoggi before that, when hope brimmed during the Arab Spring, a time of uprisings and rebellions.

"I definitely agree that the Arab Spring has opened horizons and was a positive movement and we all had hope. But I would agree that it has diminished. It has become a mirage. Press freedom is non-existent."

Khashoggi 'body double'

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Surveillance video shows a man appearing to wear Jamal Khashoggi's clothes leaving the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul after the journalist was killed there on Oct. 2. 0:26

Ten years ago, Fahmy said that Khashoggi was writing a book and setting up an Arab television station which ended up only broadcasting once before it was shut down.

"He wanted to hire me. We got along really well, and then we lost touch for the longest time," said Fahmy.

Fahmy arrest

Fahmy and two colleagues from Al-Jazeera's English network were arrested by Egyptian authorities in 2013 on charges of allegedly joining or assisting a terrorist group and spreading false news that endangers national security.

He was found guilty in 2014 and sentenced to 10 years in prison.

He spent 438 days in a maximum security prison in Cairo, until his pardon in 2015 by Egyptian president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, after which,he returned to Canada and taught at the University of British Columbia.

When released, Fahmy says he reconnected with Khashoggi.

"We had a political disagreement, which is healthy in a turbulent Middle East. I was critical of The Muslim Brotherhood, and he wasn't," said Fahmy.

A man waits to enter Saudi Arabia's consulate in Istanbul on Friday, Oct. 19, 2018. Journalist Jamal Khashoggi hasn't been seen since entering this diplomatic mission on Oct. 2. (Lefteris Pitarakis/Associated Press)

The Muslim Brotherhood is a long-standing religious group focused on creating an Islamic State.

It's considered a terrorist organization in many parts of the Middle East, said Fahmy.

And here was Khashoggi a "cherished" insider who was close to the royal Saudi family and intelligence advisor now aligning himself with so-called enemies.

"He took a very obvious stand against the current regime in Saudi Arabia … and the unprecedented clampdown on civil society," said Fahmy.

Khashoggi was outspoken and critical about human rights and press freedoms abuses in America and the Middle East.

But Fahmy suspects he was in more danger because he aligned himself with Qatar.

 Khashoggi was scheduled to speak at a Washington D.C., conference this month.

One of the speakers was a member of the Qatari royal family, at a time when Fahmy says tweeting support for Qatar was deemed criminal by the Saudi regime.

"[Khashoggi] was a man dedicated to his views. I think he got embroiled in the current unprecedented battle of ideologies in the Middle East between Saudi Arabia and Qatar. I think the Saudi's were not happy about this at all," said Fahmy.

"They may have considered him a traitor."

An activist holds an image of missing Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi during a demonstration outside the White House in Washington, U.S., Oct. 19, 2018, protesting Khashoggi's disappearance and calling for sanctions against Saudi Arabia. (Leah Millis/Reuters)

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Yvette Brend is a Vancouver journalist. Yvette.Brend@cbc.ca or on Twitter or Instagram @ybrend

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