The World of International Organizations

Media group accuses Saudis in 35 reporter cases

Jamal Khashoggi's likeness is projected onto a Washington building on the 2-year anniversary of the Saudi journalist's murder last October (AN/Freedom First)
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Reporters Without Borders filed a criminal complaint in Germany on Tuesday seeking to hold Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and his top aides accountable for “crimes against humanity” in the 2018 murder of Saudi journalist and Washington Post contributing columnist Jamal Khashoggi and the “widespread and systematic” persecution of 34 other detained journalists.

The Paris-based media advocacy organization’s criminal complaint of more than 500 pages, which includes charges of enforced disappearance, persecution, torture and unlawful killing, was filed with the public prosecutor’s office in the Federal Court of Justice at Karlsruhe, Germany’s highest court of civil and criminal jurisdiction.

Germany is among the governments, mainly in Canada and Europe, where the criminal code includes the principle of “universal jurisdiction,” which allows for investigations and prosecutions of the most serious crimes under international law that are committed abroad by people who are not nationals of the investigating and prosecuting jurisdiction. It was mostly intended to deal with international crimes against humanity, enforced disappearance, genocide, torture and war crimes.

The complaint also names four other officials — Saud al-Qahtani, a top aide to the crown prince; Major General Ahmed al-Assiri, a former deputy chief of Saudi intelligence; Mohammed al-Otaibi, then-Saudi consul general in Istanbul; and Maher Mutreb, an intelligence officer — in accusing them of “organizational or executive responsibility” in the orchestrated killing of Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate at Istanbul, Turkey on October 2, 2018.

Not above the law

The complaint in German court was filed less than a week after U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration released a declassified U.S. intelligence report concluding Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, heir to the throne and the kingdom’s de facto ruler, had “approved” the operation to “kill or capture” Khashoggi, a former Saudi royal court insider who became one of the monarchy’s biggest critics.

Saudi Arabia’s foreign ministry had no immediate reaction to the criminal complaint but said in its response to the intelligence report that “the kingdom rejects any measure that infringes upon its leadership, sovereignty, and the independence of its judicial system.”

Reporters Without Borders said it also wanted to “reveal a system that threatens the life and liberty of any journalist in Saudi Arabia — in particular those who speak out publicly against the Saudi government.” It said at least 33 bloggers, columnists, editors and TV presenters remain imprisoned in Saudi Arabia for doing their jobs. One of the 34 detained journalists referenced in the complaint was since released.

“Those responsible for the persecution of journalists in Saudi Arabia, including the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, must be held accountable for their crimes,” said Christophe Deloire, secretary-general of Reporters Without Borders, or RSF, its French acronym.

“While these serious crimes against journalists continue unabated, we call on the German prosecutor to take a stand and open an investigation into the crimes we have revealed,” he said in a statement. “No one should be above international law, especially when crimes against humanity are at stake. The urgent need for justice is long overdue.”

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