The US Department of State Thursday released a letter stating that Prime Minister of Saudi Arabia Crown Prince Mohhammed bin Salman should have immunity in a US case regarding his role in the murder of Saudi-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
The Biden Administration’s suggestion for bin Salman’s immunity was filed with the court on Thursday and argues that, because bin Salman is the sitting head of a foreign government, he is entitled to immunity from the court’s jurisdiction while he holds office. The declaration has been met with backlash from human rights organizations.
Khashoggi was killed in October 2018 by Saudi agents at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul while seeking documents to civilly confirm his marriage to his Turkish fiancée, Hatice Cengiz. His body was dismembered and has yet to be found. Cengiz and American non-profit Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN) brought a lawsuit against bin Salman and a number of other Saudi defendants.
The complaint outlines that Khashoggi attempted to acquire the necessary documents for his marriage at the Saudi Embassy in Washington, D.C. but was told by embassy officials that he would have to obtain them at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Plaintiffs allege that this was an attempt by members of the Saudi Embassy to lure Khashoggi to the Saudi Consulate and carry out the plan to kill him. Plaintiffs claim that the objective of Khashoggi’s murder was to stop his dissidence against the Saudi government and his work with DAWN in creating democratic reform and furthering human rights in Saudi Arabia.
DAWN Executive Director Sarah Whitson said the administration is “rewarding [bin Salman] for his intransigence, including continued attacks on activists in the US.”
Secretary General for Amnesty International Agnès Callamard said the call for bin Salman’s immunity is a deep betrayal. “The US governments should hang its head in shame. This is nothing more than a sickening, total, deep betrayal,” Callamard said in a statement.