Fri, 05 Jun 2020

Full Accountability Needed in Khashoggi Killing, Rights Groups Say

Voice of America
28 Mar 2020, 07:35 GMT+10

Turkey's indictment this week of 20 Saudi nationals accused in the 2018 killing of Jamal Khashoggi does not go far enough, say journalists and the U.N. special rapporteur who investigated the killing.

A colleague of the Washington Post columnist, along with rights groups and international bodies, said Saudi and Turkish authorities should do more to hold everyone involved to account, including Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

"Turkey's action brings home the total absence of accountability in Saudi Arabia, where the murderers remain to this day, and the Trump administration's sad willingness to tolerate that abdication," Fred Hiatt, editorial page editor at the Post, told VOA.

Saud al-Qahtani, an aide to the crown prince, and Ahmed al-Asiri, a former deputy head of general intelligence, were among those named in the indictment Wednesday.

"[The] indictment, provided it is followed by a trial, will contribute enormously to truth telling and thus to justice," Agnes Callamard, the U.N. Commission on Human Rights' special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, told VOA.

"But the Turkish authorities have fallen short of indicting the Prince Mohammed bin Salman and failed to explain why they have not done so," she said. "From this standpoint, something is missing."

Call for criminal probe

A report by Callamard's office in June found evidence that the crown prince should be investigated, and it called for a criminal investigation. The CIA in November 2018 concluded that he ordered the journalist's killing.

Callamard told VOA the U.N. secretary-general so far has failed to act on her recommendation for a criminal investigation.

The White House did not immediately respond to VOA's request for comment.

Saudi officials repeatedly have denied the crown prince was involved. Crown Prince Mohammed also has denied ordering the killing, while conceding that he bore ultimate responsibility as the kingdom's de facto leader.

Saudi Arabia initially denied any involvement in or knowledge of Khashoggi's death. It later said the journalist was killed in a "rogue operation."

Eight sentenced

In December, a Saudi court sentenced five people to death and three to jail for Khashoggi's killing.

Callamard told VOA that Saudi Arabia should bring to trial those who ordered the crime.

"It is a parody of justice that only the least powerful members of a well-planned and well-organized official mission should be held to account and sentenced to death," she said.

Khashoggi was last seen entering the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, October 2, 2018. Turkish investigators said that, based on phone records and other evidence, the journalist was strangled and dismembered.

Turkey's indictment named 18 suspected killers, including a 15-person team accused of carrying out the operation, and three intelligence officials, Reuters reported.

An Interpol order was issued, and Turkish authorities are preparing a request for Saudi Arabia to return the suspects for trial, according to reports.

Saudi authorities previously rejected Ankara's requests for suspects to be returned for trial, The Guardian reported.

Al-Asiri and al-Qahtani were accused of instigating "premeditated murder with monstrous intent," the Turkish prosecutor's office said.

The others were accused of suffocating Khashoggi, who was critical of Crown Prince Mohammed's actions, Reuters reported.

One acquitted, one not charged

A Saudi court in December acquitted al-Asiri. Al-Qahtani was investigated but no charges were brought, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists reported.

The Saudi Embassy in Washington did not respond to a request for comment from VOA.

In response to Wednesday's indictment, Khashoggi's fiancee, Hatice Cengiz, called on Washington to publish a report into the killing, Reuters reported. Every independent investigation had concluded that "this barbaric murder ... was premeditated, carried out by government officials and involved the royal court," she said.

Callamard told VOA she has asked the U.S. Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) to release its confidential assessment of who was responsible for the killing.

The U.S. administration so far has ignored requests from Congress to release the report or respond to a request filed under the Global Magnitsky Act in October 2018 on who it believed to be responsible and whether it would impose sanctions.

"The U.S. Congress has asked for such a report. The U.S. Congress has played its role in the delivery of justice for Jamal and continues to do so. Other American institutions, particularly the DNI, must now play its part, too," she said.

The U.S. State Department did not immediately respond to VOA's email requesting comment.

In a February 2019 statement, the Trump administration said the president "maintains his discretion to decline to act on congressional committee requests when appropriate."

It added that the administration had taken action and was consulting with Congress, The New York Times reported.

More pressure on Saudis urged

Andrew Miller, deputy director for policy for the Washington-based nonprofit Project on Middle East Democracy, told VOA that Turkey's indictment wasn't enough and called for more pressure on Saudi Arabia.

Miller said that as well as pushing for accountability in Khashoggi's case, "the international community should be applying pressure on Saudi Arabia to release imprisoned political dissidents, especially women's rights activists who were arrested for advocating for measures the kingdom has since implemented."

Callamard echoed his view, telling VOA the message from the international community "must be strong and it must resonate strongly." One step toward this could be to relocate the G-20 summit from Riyadh, she said.

Khashoggi's killing, which Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said was ordered at the "highest levels" of the Saudi government, has strained ties between Ankara and Riyadh.

Turkey accused Saudi officials of obstructing investigations, while Riyadh repeatedly said the Istanbul prosecutor has not complied with requests to share information.

Some information for this report came from Reuters.

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