Media advocacy group accuses Saudi crown prince, aides of crimes against humanity in Khashoggi death

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The other officials named in the complaint include Saud al-Qahtani, a top aide to the crown prince, and Maj. Gen. Ahmed al-Assiri, a former deputy intelligence chief. Both men are accused of “organizational or executive responsibility” in the death of Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist and U.S. resident who was brutally killed inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul in October 2018.

The filing comes days after the Biden administration released an unclassified intelligence assessment concluding that the crown prince approved the operation to “kill or capture” Khashoggi, who criticized aspects of the kingdom’s leadership.

The other officials are Mohammed al-Otaibi, who was serving as Saudi consul general in Istanbul at the time of Khashoggi’s death, and Maher Mutreb, an intelligence officer who allegedly led the team sent to intercept the journalist in Istanbul.

“The bottom line is that appropriate justice for Jamal has yet to be done,” said Christophe Deloire, secretary general of Reporters Without Borders, which is also known by its French acronym, RSF. Deloire said the newly released intelligence conclusions strengthened his organization’s case.

Equally important, Deloire added, are the other 34 journalists being detained by the Saudi government. “RSF’s message to those who silence, imprison, assassinate, or otherwise target journalists is that they won’t get away with it with impunity,” he said.

The organization’s accusations against Saudi Arabia include unlawful killing, torture, enforced disappearance and persecution.

It will now be up to the German prosecutor to decide whether to open a prosecutorial investigation. RSF officials say they believe Germany is conducive to such a move because its laws allow prosecution of certain crimes committed outside Germany. But no action is guaranteed, and German officials have declined to take up several high-level foreign prosecutions in the past.

Following last week’s intelligence release, the Biden administration announced new visa restrictions related to extraterritorial attacks on journalists or dissidents, added to earlier sanctions on Saudi officials, and announced a “recalibration” of the U.S. relationship with its longtime partner. But it stopped short of imposing any punishment on the powerful 35-year-old crown prince.

That decision was met with immediate criticism from some lawmakers and activists. Administration officials have defended their actions, saying the United States does not usually sanction leaders from friendly countries and stressing the value of U.S. defense and intelligence cooperation with the kingdom.

The administration has also announced a new focus on Yemen, where Saudi Arabia is blamed for civilian casualties in its war against Iranian-linked rebels, and said it will halt certain arms sales to the kingdom.

The Saudi government rejected the conclusions of the intelligence report, the release of which marked another break with the Trump administration. The kingdom’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement that the report contained “inaccurate information and conclusions.”

Although lawmakers briefed by intelligence officials in the weeks after the killing described the case for the crown prince’s responsibility as ironclad, President Donald Trump expressed skepticism. His administration also defied a congressional mandate to release a declassified version of the intelligence assessment.

The Saudi government conducted a largely secret trial that resulted in the conviction of a group of individuals in the murder, with prison sentences of up to 20 years. Both Qahtani and Assiri were exonerated, despite the fact that Saudi prosecutors said they were important in the plot that resulted in Khashoggi’s killing.

How Germany’s public prosecutor will respond to the filing was not immediately clear, but RSF Executive Director Christian Mihr said he was hopeful.

“If we did not seriously expect that the general prosecutor could pick the complaint up, we would not have filed it,” he said. “But in the end time will show.”

In 2002, the country enshrined the principle of universal jurisdiction into its criminal code, meaning that crimes against humanity, genocide and war crimes could be prosecuted in its courts no matter where those acts took place. The idea is to make sure that the most serious crimes — those of concern to the international community as a whole — do not go unpunished.

Germany’s legislation is considered to be among the most comprehensive of its kind in the world. But in the past, prosecutors have sometimes refrained from investigating cases that lack a German connection or have judged foreign officials to be immune from prosecution.

In 2003, the federal prosecutor decided not to investigate former Chinese president Jiang Zemin, on the basis that he had immunity as a former head of state. It has also cited immunity while declining investigations into Uzbek intelligence chief Rustam Inoyatov, former Afghan warlord and member of parliament Abdurrashid Dostum, and Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, according to a Human Rights Watch report.

Authorities may use their discretion not to prosecute a crime without a German link to avoid overburdening the judicial system.

If a case does not have a nexus to Germany, the legal principle is to give priority to international courts or prosecutors in the home states of the victims or offenders, or where the crime is alleged to have taken place, according to a briefing paper from the Open Society Foundations on such cases in Germany. But Mihr said that he felt that the current “political climate” made it a “likely possibility” that there would be a prosecution.

In a landmark case, two Syrians accused of crimes committed while working for the Syrian intelligence apparatus were put on trial last year in Germany, where both had claimed asylum.

The less senior of the two, Eyad al-Gharib, was sentenced to 4½ years in prison last week for his role in rounding up demonstrators and sending them to a Syrian detention center, where prosecutors said he was aware they would be tortured.

Anwar Raslan, who is accused of crimes against humanity, 58 murders, rape and sexual assault, remains on trial.

Morris reported from Berlin.



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