Pundits on Twitter reacted swiftly and sharply to a photo released by the Saudi government showing Jamal Khashoggi’s son with a pained expression as he shook the hand of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
King Salman and the crown prince received Khashoggi’s son Salah and his brother Sahel at the Yamama Palace in Riyadh on Tuesday, where the two royals expressed their condolences, according to the state-run Saudi Press Agency, which ran the handshake photo.
A friend of the Khashoggi family told The Associated Press that Salah has been under a travel ban since his father began writing critically about the prince in columns for The Washington Post. The individual spoke on condition of anonymity, fearing reprisal.
Crown Prince Mohammed has come under mounting international pressure with critics suspecting he ordered the high-profile assassination, or at least knew about it.
“They brought him to the royal court to accept condolences. The look on his face. This photo makes me want to scream and throw up,” wrote Manal al-Sharif, author of Daring to Drive: a Saudi Woman’s Awakening.
Fadi Al-Qadi, a Middle East human rights advocate and commentator, also denounced the photo-op as “ruthless”.
Chris Doyle, from the Council of Arab-British Understanding, told Al Jazeera the meeting between Khashoggi’s family members and the Saudi leadership was designed to help its reputation, but the reaction on social media indicates it was yet another communications failure surrounding the murder.
“They were seen being generous towards the family, but we see an image here that speaks 1,000 words. Really it tells such a story of the pain of Salah, Jamal Khashoggi’s son, in meeting King Salman – and particularly the crown prince,” said Doyle.
“I think many people online looking at this on social media are saying, you know, this is the face of a son who thinks he’s shaking the hand of the man who killed his father. It’s another example in this situation where some of the Saudi attempts to win the public relations war is failing.”
‘Nobody can explain it’
Saudi authorities say they have arrested 18 suspects and dismissed senior officials, but the crown prince has so far escaped blame. He has repeatedly denied any involvement in the murder.
Saudi Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih on Tuesday described Khashoggi’s killing as “abhorrent”, saying “these are difficult days for us in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia”.
“Nobody in the kingdom can justify it or explain it. From the leadership on down, we’re very upset at what has happened,” said Falih.