The unnamed Saudi official who was accused of threatening to kill a United Nations investigator for asking difficult questions has helpfully identified himself—and insists it’s all just a terrible misunderstanding.
Earlier this week, Agnès Callamard, the UN special rapporteur who was tasked with investigating Jamal Khashoggi’s slaying at the hands of Saudi government agents, made an incredible allegation. Callamard told The Guardian that, in January 2020, a senior Saudi official threatened to have her “taken care of” if she didn’t go easier on his government. She said that the remark was clearly understood to be a death threat.
Although Callamard didn’t name the official, he’s now come out publicly to defend himself from the investigator’s claims. Awwad Alawwad, the Saudi minister of culture and information, said in an extraordinary Twitter thread that the people who heard his alleged threat have got it wrong—and he hopes the misunderstanding won’t detract from all the great work he and Saudi Arabia are doing to advance human rights.
“It has come to my attention that Ms. Agnes Callamard of Amnesty International and some U.N. officials believe I somehow made a veiled threat against her more than a year ago,” wrote the minister. “I reject this suggestion in the strongest terms. While I cannot recall the exact conversations, I never would have desired or threatened any harm upon a U.N.-appointed individual, or anyone for that matter.”
In what amounted to a classic of the “sorry you feel that way” genre of non-apology, Alawwad went on: “I am disheartened that anything I have said could be interpreted as a threat. I am an advocate for human rights and I spend my day working to ensure those values are upheld.”
Then, in an audacious claim, the minister went on to laud his country’s human-rights record as the most-improved on Earth. Saudi Arabia consistently ranks among the worst performers for human rights. Freedom House, the U.S.-based human-rights think tank, lists it as the seventh most oppressive country in the world because of its entirely unelected government, routine use of torture and execution, and widespread discrimination against women and religious minorities.
However, Alawwad insisted that the country is doing its very best. He wrote: “I truly hope that this story was not concocted to distract from the important work we are doing to advance human rights in Saudi Arabia. No country is advancing faster on reforms than us right now.”
Callamard, whose report on the Khashoggi murder concluded that there was evidence that the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, was behind the crime, will probably need a bit more convincing.