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Press watchdog files lawsuit against Saudi prince over Khashoggi murder

·3-min read

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said Tuesday that it had filed a criminal case in a German court against Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for "crimes against humanity" in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

The complaint, which seeks an inquiry by prosecutors under Germany's international jurisdiction laws, accuses Saudi Arabia of persecuting Khashoggi – who was murdered at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October 2018 – as well as dozens of other journalists.

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

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

The 500-page complaint, filed on Monday with the German Public Prosecutor General in the Karlsruhe federal court, includes allegations of arbitrary detention of more than 30 journalists and the 2018 murder of the Washington Post columnist in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018.

RSF said it filed the lawsuit in Germany because of its principle of universal jurisdiction, allowing its courts to prosecute crimes against humanity committed anywhere, and that other names could be added to the complaint at a later stage.

The office of Germany's prosecutor general on Tuesday said it had received the criminal complaint and was assessing its legal and factual merits.

Saudi Arabia dismissed US intelligence report

The announcement came days after President Joe Biden’s administration declassified a US intelligence report which assessed the Saudi crown princeapproved an operation in Istanbul, Turkey to capture or kill Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi".

The report, prepared by the US Office of the Director of National Intelligence, echoed a classified version of a report on Khashoggi's murder that Donald Trump shared with members of Congress in late 2018.

Trump's rejection of demands by lawmakers and human rights groups to release a declassified version at the time reflected a desire to preserve cooperation with Riyadh amid rising tensions with Iran and to promote US arms sales to the kingdom.

Saudi Arabia has dismissed the report, claiming it does not provide evidence that bin Salman was implicated in Khashoggi’s assassination. The prince, Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler, has claimed moral responsibility for the murder but has denied direct involvement in the case.

Riyadh maintains Khashoggi was killed in a "rogue operation" 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 had submitted to the Karlsruhe federal court.

The other officials named in the RSF complaint were Saud al-Qahtani, who was seen as the crown prince's right-hand man; Ahmed Mohammed al-Asiri, a former royal court adviser; Maher Abdulaziz Mutreb, a general; and Mohammad al-Otaibi, the Saudi Istanbul Consul General at the time of Khashoggi's murder.

UN special rapporteur slams weak US reaction

Following the declassification of the intelligence report on Friday, the US has put 76 Saudis on a blacklist of foreigners denied entry to the US for threatening dissidents or harassing reporters and their families.

The Treasury Department has also announced it was freezing assets and criminalising transactions with a former Saudi intelligence official as well as the Rapid Intervention Force, an elite unit that the report said "exists to defend the crown prince" and "answers only to him".

But it has stopped short of placing sanctions on the Saudi crown prince, a decision that was criticised by the UN special rapporteur on summary executions. Agnès Callamard on Monday said it was “extremely dangerous” for the US to have named Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler as having approved an operation to capture or kill Khashoggi but not to have taken action against him.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)