Saudi prince has immunity in Khashoggi killing lawsuit

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

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

The latest: Fred Ryan, the Post’s publisher and CEO, said in a statement Friday that President Biden is “granting a license to kill to one of the world’s most egregious human-rights abusers who is responsible for the cold-blooded murder of Jamal Khashoggi.”

  • “While legitimate heads of government should be protected against frivolous lawsuits, the Saudis’ decision to make MBS prime minister was a cynical, calculated effort to manipulate the law and shield him from accountability,” Ryan added, referring to the prince who is commonly known as MBS.
  • “By going along with this scheme, President Biden is turning his back on fundamental principles of press freedom and equality.”

Driving the news: The Biden administration’s declaration was made in a short filing in the suit filed by the journalist’s fiancee, Hatice Cengiz, who also slammed the action, and the rights group Khashoggi founded, Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN).

A screenshot of a tweet by Jamal Khashoggi's fiancee saying
Photo: Hatice Cengiz/Twitter

Details: A State Department spokesperson said in an emailed statement the Justice Department filed the “suggestion of immunity,” at the request of the State Department, “based on longstanding and well-established principles” of law.

  • This includes customary international law, “which the United States has consistently and across administrations applied to heads of state, heads of government, and foreign ministers while they are in office,” the spokesperson said.
  • “This Suggestion of Immunity does not reflect an assessment on the merits of the case. It speaks to nothing on broader policy or the state of relations. This was purely a legal determination.”

What they’re saying: Cengiz tweeted that the suggestion of immunity “wasn’t a decision everyone expected.”

  • “We thought maybe there would be a light to justice from #USA But again, money came first,” she added. “This is a world that Jamal doesn’t know about and me..!”
  • “It’s beyond ironic that President Biden has single-handedly assured MBS can escape accountability when he was President Biden who promised the American people he would do everything to hold him accountable,” Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director of DAWN, noted in a statement. “Not even the Trump administration did this.”

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

  • US officials determined last year that MBS had approved the 2018 murder of Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
  • MBS has denied he ordered the dissident Saudi journalist’s killing, but said he accepted “responsibility” because it happened under my watch.”

What’s next: A judge will determine whether to grant the prince immunity, as the Biden administration’s suggestion is non-binding, per 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 publisher and CEO of the Washington Post.

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