A criminal case against Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and others in the Saudi hierarchy has been filed in a German court for the brutal 2018 murder, dismemberment, and disappearance of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, despite the kingdom’s denial of MBS’ direct involvement and the Biden administration’s flaccid response to the killing.
The 500-page complaint filed by the press-freedom group Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is the first time a criminal case has been lodged outside of what was largely considered a show trial in Saudi Arabia. That trial saw the conviction of eight people who were later pardoned after members of the Khashoggi family were said to have forgiven them.
On Monday, the Saudi ambassador to the United Nations disputed a four-page CIA report released last week that pointed to MBS’ involvement, tweeting, “Let us all move forward to tackle the serious business of world issues!!”
Ambassador Abdallah Al-Mouallimi called the American report, which has been widely criticized as weak, as being “based on could’ve, should’ve and would’ve and does not rise to anywhere close to proving the accusation beyond reasonable doubt.”
The report, which was held back by the Trump administration and released last week by Biden, does not directly accuse MBS of ordering the hit on Khashoggi but does say he had “absolute control” over all activities carried out by the kingdom’s intelligence service. Al-Mouallimi argued in a Twitter tirade that “the Prince courageously accepted moral responsibility, presented the accused to the justice system, and pledged to reform the intelligence organizations. Case closed!”
Khashoggi was ambushed at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul by a 15-member hit squad that includes a bone-saw-wielding surgeon and seven members of MBS’ elite personal security team in October 2018. The journalist’s body has never been found.
The complaint in Germany was filed Monday with public prosecutors in the city of Karlsruhe, according to an RSF statement. The dossier outlines the arbitrary detention of 34 journalists and the brutal murder of Khashoggi to underscore what it calls the kingdom’s “widespread and systematic” persecution of the press.
“These journalists are the victims of unlawful killing, torture, sexual violence, and coercion and forced disappearance,” Christophe Deloire, RSF secretary-general, said at a press conference Tuesday morning. “Those responsible for the persecution of journalists in Saudi Arabia, including the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, must be held accountable for their crimes.”
The RSF statement names MBS and four other suspects: Saud Al-Qahtani, a close adviser to the crown prince who they allege took direct part in the planning and execution of the murder as well as in the implementation of the policy of persecution of journalists in Saudi Arabia; Ahmad Mohammed Asiri, the former deputy head of intelligence, who is suspected of personally supervising Khashoggi’s murder; Mohammad Al-Otaibi, the consul general in Istanbul at the time of the murder; and Maher Abdulaziz Mutreb, an intelligence officer who led the team that “tortured, killed, and forceably disappeared Jamal Khashoggi.”
The complaint was filed in Germany because laws there can extend “universal jurisdiction” to some serious international crimes, even when the victims are not German. The case is bolstered by the recent conviction in a German court of a Syrian secret-service officer for aiding and abetting crimes against humanity for the torture of protesters at one of Bashar al-Assad’s prisons, according to The Guardian.
“The official opening of a criminal investigation in Germany into the crimes against humanity in Saudi Arabia would be a world first,” RSF’s Germany director Christian Mihr said. “We ask the public prosecutor general to open a situation analysis, with a view to formally launching a prosecutorial investigation and issuing arrest warrants.”
RSF ranks Saudi Arabia 170th out of 180 countries in its press-freedom index. “Saudi Arabia permits no independent media,” the RSF rationale states. “Despite his talk of reform, Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) has intensified the repression since his appointment as crown prince in June 2017. The number of journalists and citizen-journalists in detention has tripled since the start of 2017.”
The German court has not yet accepted the claim and no court date has been set.