Saudi prince has immunity in Khashoggi murder charge

Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman during a working lunch at Tuesday’s G20 summit in Nusa Dua, Indonesia. Photo: Leon Neal/Getty Images

The Washington Post has joined human rights defenders in condemning the Biden administration’s argument that Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman enjoys immunity in a lawsuit filed against him over the 2018 killing of Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.

The newest: Fred Ryan, publisher and CEO of the Post, said in a statement Friday when President Biden “granted a license to kill to one of the most egregious human rights abusers in the world responsible for the cold-blooded murder of Jamal Khashoggi.”

  • “While legitimate leaders should be protected from frivolous lawsuits, the Saudis’ decision to make MBS prime minister was a cynical, calculated attempt to rig the law and shield him from accountability,” Ryan added, referring to the commonly known princes as MBS.
  • “By agreeing to this plan, President Biden is turning his back on the fundamental principles of press freedom and equality.”

Driving the news: The Biden administration’s statement has been made a court record in the lawsuit brought by the journalist’s fiancé, Hatice Cengiz, who also slammed the action and the rights group Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN) founded by Khashoggi.

A screenshot of a tweet of Jamal Khashoggi's fiancé line
Photo: Hatice Cengiz/Twitter

Details: A State Department spokesman said in an emailed statement that the Justice Department submitted the “proposal of immunity” at the request of the State Department “based on longstanding and established legal principles.”

  • These include customary international law “which the United States has consistently and across administration applied to heads of state, heads of government and secretaries of state during their tenures,” the spokesman said.
  • “This immunity proposal does not reflect an assessment of the merits of the case. It says nothing about general politics or the state of relations. This was a purely legal decision.”

What you say: Cengiz tweeted that the immunity proposal “was not a decision that everyone expected”.

  • “We thought that maybe #USA would shed some light on justice, but again, money came first,” she added. “This is a world Jamal knows nothing about and I…!”
  • “It is beyond ironic that President Biden has single-handedly assured MBS that MBS can evade accountability, despite President Biden’s pledge to the American people to do whatever it takes to hold him accountable,” noted Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director of DAWN, in a statement. “Not even the Trump administration has done that.”

The big picture: Biden was criticized for sharing a fist bump with the prince after arriving in the Gulf kingdom in July.

  • US officials found last year that MBS authorized the 2018 murder of Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
  • MBS has denied ordering the killing of the dissident Saudi journalist but said it accepted “responsibility” for it was done under my supervision.”

What’s next: A judge will decide whether to grant the prince immunity because the Biden administration’s proposal is not binding, according to the AP.

go deeper: Biden says he raised Khashoggi’s murder with Saudi crown prince

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated with a statement from the editor and CEO of The Washington Post.

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