Press watchdog files suit against Saudi prince over Khashoggi
By Joseph Schmid
PARIS – Reporters Without Borders said Tuesday (2) 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 (March 1).
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.
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.