Press Watchdog Files Lawsuit Against Saudi Prince Over Khashoggi Killing

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Saudi Arabia Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman | File Photo

Paris: Reporters Without Borders said Tuesday that it has asked a German court to investigate “crimes against humanity” by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman over the grisly killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

The criminal suit, which seeks an inquiry by prosecutors under Germany’s international jurisdiction laws, alleges systematic persecution of Khashoggi — who was murdered at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018– as well as dozens of other journalists.

It comes after Washington released a declassified intelligence report last week which concluded that Prince Mohammed personally approved the killing of Khashoggi, a US-based contributor to The Washington Post.

Saudi officials denounced the report, insisting that Khashoggi was killed in a “rogue operation” by a Saudi hit squad that did not involve the crown prince.

But Reporters Without Borders said it had gathered evidence of a “state policy to attack and silence journalists,” which it submitted to the Federal Court of Justice in Karlsruhe, Germany, on Monday.

Its report details the cases of 34 other journalists who have been jailed in Saudi Arabia, including the blogger Raif Badawi, who has been imprisoned in his home country since 2012 on charges of “insulting Islam.”

“We call on the German prosecutor to take a stand,” Christophe Deloire, secretary-general of the media watchdog known by its French abbreviation RSF, said in a statement.

“No one should be above international law, especially when crimes of humanity are at stake,” he said.

Contacted by AFP, the court in Karlsruhe confirmed it had received the complaint but declined to comment further.

Last week, a court in Koblenz applied the principle of universal jurisdiction to convict a former Syrian intelligence agent for complicity in crimes against humanity, the first court case worldwide over state-sponsored torture by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government.

“Mockery of justice”

Besides Prince Mohammed, the complaint targets his top aide Saud al-Qahtani, who is suspected of taking a direct role in the planning and killing of Khashoggi, and three other Saudi officials.

While a Saudi court eventually sentenced 11 unidentified defendants in December 2019 for the killing after international pressure, the main suspects remain “fully immune to justice,” RSF said.

And the death sentences for five of the suspects were overturned last September, in what Khashoggi’s Turkish fiancee Hatice Cengiz called “a mockery of justice.”

On Tuesday, Cengiz reiterated her call on the international community to “punish” the prince over the extra-territorial murder of a citizen.

The 59-year-old Khashoggi was strangled and had his body cut into pieces by a 15-man Saudi squad inside the Istanbul consulate, according to Turkish officials. His remains have not been found.

Both the CIA and a UN special envoy have directly linked Prince Mohammed to the killing, a charge the kingdom denies.

The US report released last week found that seven members of the hit squad that flew to Istanbul came from the Rapid Intervention Force, which it said “exists to defend the crown prince” and “answers only to him”.

President Joe Biden’s administration imposed sanctions on the Rapid Intervention Force — meaning any US transactions with it will be a crime — and said it was banning entry into the United States of 76 Saudis under a new policy against foreign officials who harass dissidents.

But it stopped short of personally targeting the 35-year-old crown prince, who is the de facto Saudi leader as well as the defence minister of one of the world’s largest oil suppliers.

Agnes Callamard, the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, on Tuesday called the RSF filing “an important step in the right direction” for holding the crown prince accountable.

US defends not sanctioning MBS for Khashoggi’s murder

The US President Joe Biden’s administration has defended its decision not to apply sanctions on Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) for the 2018 killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

“We are working to put the US Saudi relationship on the right footing,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said at a news conference in Washington on Monday, defending the Biden administration’s decision not to sanction the crown prince, who is the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia.

The Biden administration is seeking to “recalibrate”, not “rupture” the US-Saudi relationship, Price said.

Had the Biden administration done “something more dramatic and something more drastic” by naming MBS for sanctions, it would “greatly diminish” US influence in Riyadh, Price said.

The administration’s decision not to punish the crown prince drew harsh criticism from the publisher of the Washington Post, where Khashoggi was a columnist.

Accusing Biden of breaking his campaign promise to make the Saudi regime “pay the price” for the killing of Khashoggi, Post publisher Fred Ryan wrote: “It appears as though under the Biden administration, despots who offer momentarily strategic value to the United States might be given a ‘one free murder’ pass.”

The US Department of State on February 26 put 76 Saudi nationals on a no-travel list and the Treasury Department imposed financial sanctions on Saudi officials involved in the killing of Khashoggi but Crown Prince Mohammed was not included.

The sanctions were announced after the Office of the Director of National Intelligence released a declassified report prepared by the CIA and other US spy agencies assigning responsibility for the operation that killed Khashoggi to MBS.

“The choices Riyadh makes will have outsized implications for the region,” Price said.

“Our goal in all of this is to be able to shape those choices going forward. That’s why we have talked about this not as a rupture but as a calibration to ensure that we retain that influence in what we need for our own interests.”

Price said since Biden was elected US president, Riyadh has taken “steps in the right direction” by releasing women’s rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul and two dual Saudi-US citizens, as well as ending the Saudi-led blockade against Qatar.

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