US Judge dismisses suit against Saudi Prince over Khashoggi’s murder

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A US judge has  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.

In his ruling on Tuesday, Washington federal judge, John Bates, accepted a US government’s stance that Prince Mohammed, who was designated prime minister of Saudi Arabia in September, enjoys immunity in US courts as a foreign head of state.

Bates stated that the civil suit filed by Khashoggi’s widow, Hatice Cengiz, and his activist group, DAWN, made a “strong” and “meritorious” argument that Prince Mohammed was behind the murder.

He, however, ruled that he had no power to reject the US government’s official stance, submitted in a formal statement to the court on November 17, that the prince had immunity as a foreign leader.

He further said that even if the prince was named 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 revealed that the “credible” allegations of the murder, the timing of prince being named as prime minister, and timing of the US government’s submission, left him with “uneasiness” but he had no other choice in the case.

Prince Mohammed has been the kingdom’s de facto ruler for several years under his father King Salman.

One of the prince’s most vocal critics, Khashoggi, was a journalist and activist based in the United States when he traveled to Turkey with his fiancee to obtain documents for their marriage from the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

The Nigerian News reports that after Khashoggi entered the consulate, he was seized and murdered by a team of agents of the Saudi regime, after which his body dismembered and disposed of.

Following the court ruling, activists seeking to hold the crown prince accountable for the Khashoggi murder voiced dismay.

Khalifa 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.”

In 2020, a Saudi court jailed eight people for between seven and 20 years over the killing.

Last year, Biden also declassified an intelligence report that revealed Prince Mohammed had approved the operation against Khashoggi, an assertion Saudi authorities deny.

The murder deeply strained ties between Washington and Riyadh, but driven by the needs of Middle East politics, particularly the threat from Iran, and Saudi Arabia’s power over oil markets, Biden traveled to the country in July in a move seen as partially aimed at putting the murder case behind.

However, while over there, Biden made mention of it in his talks with the crown prince, calling the murder “outrageous.”