WASHINGTON US President Donald Trump has criticised Saudi Arabia’s handling of the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, saying authorities staged the “worst cover-up ever”.
Asked by a reporter in the White House how the Khashoggi killing could have happened, Trump said on Tuesday: “They had a very bad original concept. It was carried out poorly, and the cover-up was one of the worst in the history of cover-ups.
“There should have never been an execution or a cover-up, because it should have never happened. I would say it was a total fiasco from day one.”
Khashoggi’s death in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2 has caused global outrage.
Khashoggi, a critic of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, was a US resident and columnist for The Washington Post.
Trump’s comments about the incident in recent days have ranged from threatening Saudi Arabia with “very severe” consequences and mentioning possible economic sanctions, to more conciliatory remarks highlighting the country’s role as a US ally against Iran, as well as a major purchaser of US arms.
Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters on Tuesday that Washington has identified some of the individuals responsible for Khashoggi’s killing and is planning punishments.
“We are taking appropriate actions,” Pompeo said on Tuesday, saying this including possible visa revocations and applying individual sanctions under human rights laws. He noted some of those identified work for ministries and the royal court.
“These penalties will not be the last word on the matter,” he said.
Turkey demands answers
Riyadh initially denied knowledge of Khashoggi’s fate before saying he was killed in a fight in the consulate, a reaction that met scepticism from governments and commentators around the world.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has contradicted that account, saying Khashoggi’s killing was a “political murder” that was planned by Saudi officials days in advance.
He pledged to answer all questions about the death, and stopped short of accusing Saudi royals of the “savage” killing.
Responding to Erdogan’s comments, Trump said the Turkish leader was “pretty rough” on the Saudis and that he wants to get all facts on Khashoggi’s killing before agreeing with that assessment.
Trump, who sent his CIA director to Turkey to discuss the issue, said he expected to have a report soon.
He added that he would defer to the US Congress on a response to Saudi Arabia.
“In terms of what we ultimately do, I’m going to leave it very much – in conjunction with me – I’m going to leave it up to Congress,” Trump said.
Saudi isolation grows as Khashoggi investigation deepens
Saudi Arabia has been engulfed by accusations over journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s murder at its Istanbul consulate as international actors, unsatisfied by Riyadh’s explanations, are increasing pressure, signaling for more isolation.
While new calls were voiced by international actors to apply sanctions on the Saudi government, a lack of interest in a major event in Riyadh revealed the extent of exclusion for the kingdom.
Saudi Arabia’s first major event on the world stage since the killing of Khashoggi, the Future Investment Initiative, began on Tuesday in Riyadh. However, contrary to last year’s forum which proved to be a glitzy affair that drew international business attention to the kingdom, this year’s event has seen many top business leaders and officials drop out over Khashoggi’s slaying.
The brainchild of the forum, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), was also not immediately seen at the forum when it started.
“As we gather here in Riyadh this morning, it is natural that our thoughts tend to focus on the recent events surrounding the death of Jamal Khashoggi – a writer, a journalist and a Saudi journalist known to many of us,” said Lubna Olayan, a Saudi businesswoman moderating the forum’s first panel. “May he rest in peace.” She added that such “terrible acts reported in recent weeks are alien to our culture and DNA.”
Saudi Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih admitted in statements on the sidelines of the conference that “Saudi Arabia is going through a crisis.” Falih added the murder of Khashoggi was regrettable, and “nobody in the kingdom can justify it.”
Khashoggi went missing on Oct. 2 after he entered the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. After days of denying any knowledge of his whereabouts, Saudi Arabia on Saturday claimed Khashoggi died during a fight inside the consulate. The kingdom’s announcement that Khashoggi died in a “fistfight” was met with international skepticism and allegations of a cover-up to absolve the 33-year-old crown prince of direct responsibility.
Saudi Arabia’s 2019 press freedom ranking to fall after Khashoggi murder: RSF
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) issued an “incident report” on Saudi Arabia’s press freedom and threat to the kingdom’s already poor ranking in the World Press Freedom Index, amid international anger over the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Saudi Arabia is ranked 169th out of 180 countries, in the 2018 World Press Freedom Index, according to the RSF, which predicts a further fall in the upcoming 2019 index, due to the “gravity of the violence and abuses of all kinds against journalists”.
“RSF has noted a steady increase in abuses against journalists since Mohammad bin Salman’s appointment as crown prince in June 2017. Khashoggi’s murder in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on 2 October has shown that, despite a facade of modernism, the regime stops at nothing to silence critical journalists,” the group said.
The media watchdog said the number of journalists and bloggers in Saudi prisons has doubled since MbS became crown prince in 2017, most of which were detained during the end of that year.
The RSF statement came as a journalists’ rights group on Monday launched a campaign at the United Nations seeking a convention to protect media workers’ rights worldwide.
The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) said the goal of the campaign was ending impunity in violations of these rights, as the world media focuses on identifying the details of a case that has provided evidence suggesting it was planned by authorities in Riyadh.
An initial meeting at UN headquarters brought together fifteen countries, including Greece, Russia, Pakistan, Peru, Italy and Tunisia, IFJ head Anthony Bellanger said.
His Brussels-based organisation represents 600,000 journalists in 134 countries.
The effort comes at a dramatic moment with the case of Khashoggi, who was murdered 2 October in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. The case has underscored the difficulties many journalists face, with threats of harassment, assault or even death.
Organisers of the campaign hold that it is not possible to wait for the next murder without doing anything: worldwide 82 journalists were confirmed killed last year, with only one in ten deaths investigated.
“The best tribute we can pay to the victims is to unrelentingly mobilise and work tirelessly to lift the shadow of impunity which has been over journalism for far too long,” Bellanger said.
The campaign aims to mobilise several countries to take the effort to the United Nations General Assembly, the only authority that can start the process
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