On Tuesday 6 December, US judge John Bates dismissed a lawsuit against Saudi Arabia’s crown prince Mohammed bin Salman for his alleged role in the 2018 murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Bates accepted the US government’s stance that bin Salman enjoys immunity in US courts as a foreign head of state. This is because bin Salman was designated prime minister of Saudi Arabia in September.
Khashoggi activists remain defiant
Judge Bates said the civil suit filed by Khashoggi’s widow Hatice Cengiz and her activist group DAWN made a “strong” and “meritorious” argument that bin Salman was behind the murder. However, he ruled that he had no power to reject the US government’s official stance that the prince had immunity as a foreign leader. The judge said that even if Saudi Arabia named the prince the prime minister just weeks ago, the US government’s executive branch:
remains responsible for foreign affairs, including with Saudi Arabia, and a contrary decision on bin Salman’s immunity by this Court would unduly interfere with those responsibilities.
Bates went on to say he felt “uneasiness” over the “credible” allegations of the murder, the timing of bin Salman’s prime ministership, and the timing of the US government’s submission. However, he said he had no other choice in the case.
In a press release, DAWN’s executive director Sarah Leah Whitson said:
DAWN’s lawsuit against Mohamed bin Salman (MBS) for his ruthless murder of Jamal Khashoggi is only one part of our continued efforts for justice and accountability for this crime, and the many other crimes the Saudi government is perpetrating against its own citizens.
She went on to say that the court’s decision left the organisation “disappointed”. However, it is looking at “all options” for continuing to hold bin Salman responsible for Khashoggi’s murder. Activists seeking to hold the crown prince accountable for the Khashoggi murder also voiced dismay. Khalid Aljabri, a US-based doctor and son of a former Saudi intelligence official, said:
Today is a dark day for victims of transnational repression
[US President Joe Biden] has put dissidents at greater risk while confirming to dictators that his human rights policy is nothing but hot air.
Dismembered and disposed
Khashoggi was a journalist, an activist, and an outspoken critic of bin Salman. He was based in the US but travelled to Turkey with his fiancée at the time of his murder. The trip was to obtain documents for their marriage from the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. After he entered the consulate, a team of agents of the Saudi regime seized and murdered Khashoggi. His body was dismembered and disposed of.
A Saudi court jailed eight people in 2020 for between 7 and 20 years over the killing.
Last year, Biden declassified an intelligence report which found that bin Salman had approved the operation against Khashoggi. However, Saudi authorities deny this assertion. The murder deeply strained ties between Washington and Riyadh. However, the needs of Middle East politics – particularly the threat from Iran, and Saudi Arabia’s power over oil markets – saw Biden travel to the country in July. While there, Biden made mention of it in his talks with the crown prince, calling the murder “outrageous.”
Featured image via POMED/Flickr
Additional reporting via Agence France-Presse
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