Saudi Arabia may have assumed last May that the spotlight would be taken off its Crown Prince and officials in the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi after his sons forgave the killers.
But now with the initiation of lawsuits in Washington by his fiancée and by the human rights group he had formed, the matter is likely to return to centre stage. Ms Hatice Cengiz, a Turkish national, who says she had already married Khashoggi under Islamic tradition, has claimed personal injury and financial losses for the journalist’s brutal murder in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul in 2018.
Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN), the organisation Khashoggi had founded and headed until his death, is the other plaintiff and claims its operations and objective – advocacy of democracy in the Arab world – have been hampered severely by the murder. Both Ms Cengiz and DAWN are pursuing Crown Prince Mohammed bin Sultan and 28 others for damages in a suit that regardless of its outcome is likely to cause a flutter in the Saudi roost.
The suit says, “The ruthless torture and murder of Mr Khashoggi shocked the conscience of people throughout the world. The objective of the murder was clear – to halt Mr Khashoggi’s advocacy in the United States, principally as the executive director of plaintiff DAWN, for democratic reform in the Arab world.” The murders had caused global outrage, and just last month in a rare rebuke, 29 nations jointly condemned Saudi Arabia before the UN Human Rights Council and asked that “all those responsible” be held accountable.
This came after a Saudi court had handed out jail sentences to eight unnamed defendants and overturned death sentences of five. But clearly it was the smaller fry who were held guilty for two top royal aides, the deputy intelligence chief and palace’s media head were exonerated. The verdict was sharply criticised by the UN special rapporteur for extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Agnes Callamard, who termed it a mockery of justice.
Ms Callamard had maintained all along that the murder was carried out at the behest of the Crown Prince and expressed shock that the question of his involvement had not even been addressed by the Saudi judicial process. Other human rights and media groups around the world had similarly expressed chagrin at the ease with which an influential royal had got away with a murder, committed brutally and in cold blood.
These groups and many others will watch with interest the progress of the lawsuit in Washington, which the plaintiffs say was preferred as a venue because they saw no chance for justice in Saudi Arabia, known for its opaque courts. Turkey, where the murder took place, is conducting its own criminal prosecution and therefore a civil suit could not be instituted there.