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Khashoggi's fiancee sues Saudi crown prince over journalist's murder

Lawsuit seeks discovery from US officials to prove that the killing was ordered from the top of the Saudi leadership
Jamal Khashoggi's fiancee Hatice Cengiz filed a civil lawsuit against Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman.
Jamal Khashoggi's fiancee Hatice Cengiz filed the civil lawsuit against Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and other officials (AFP/File photo)
By Umar A Farooq in Washington

Hatice Cengiz, the fiancee of slain journalist Jamal Khashoggi, has filed a civil lawsuit against Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), as well as other officials, seeking to hold them liable for his brutal murder.

The suit, filed in a district court in Washington DC on Tuesday by Cengiz and Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN), alleges that MBS and his co-conspirators ordered the abduction, torture, murder, dismemberment and disappearance of Khashoggi for the purpose of silencing and preventing him from continuing his efforts in the United States of being a voice for democratisation in the Middle East.

"The ruthless torture and murder of Mr. Khashoggi shocked the conscience of people throughout the world," said the complaint.

"The objective of the murder was clear - to halt Mr. Khashoggi's advocacy in the United States, principally as the Executive Director of Plaintiff DAWN, for democratic reform in the Arab world.

DAWN was launched in Washington last month to carry on Khashoggi's legacy of raising awareness of human rights violations committed by Washington's allies in the region.

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"The murder was carried out pursuant to a directive of Defendant Mohammed bin Salman, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia," the suit said. "Defendants saw Mr. Khashoggi's actions in the United States as an existential threat to their pecuniary and other interests and, accordingly, conspired to commit the heinous acts that are the subject of this suit."

The lawsuit seeks discovery from American law enforcement, intelligence, and administration officials to prove that Khashoggi's killing was ordered from the top of the Saudi leadership hierarchy.

"I am hopeful that we can achieve truth and justice for Jamal through this lawsuit," said Cengiz.

"I place my trust in the American civil justice system to give voice to what happened and hold those who did this accountable for their actions."

A royal family insider turned critic - Khashoggi was killed and dismembered at Saudi Arabia's consulate in Istanbul nearly two years ago, in a case that significantly tarnished the reputation of the kingdom's de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

The remains of Khashoggi, a former columnist for Middle East Eye and the Washington Post, have never been found.

Riyadh has described the murder as a "rogue" operation, but both the CIA and Agnes Callamard, UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, have linked bin Salman to the killing, a charge the kingdom vehemently denies.

Earlier this month, a Saudi court sentenced eight people to up to 20 years for the murder, four months after Khashoggi's family forgave his killers and enabled earlier death sentences to be set aside.

US-Saudi relationship

Weeks after the murder, the White House released a statement defending the Saudi royal family and hailing economic relations, including weapons deals, between Washington and Riyadh. 

According to journalist Bob Woodward's book Rage, President Trump said he "saved his [MBS's] ass" after the murder.

"I was able to get Congress to leave him alone. I was able to get them to stop," he reportedly said.

Over the past two years, Trump has also blocked congressional efforts aimed against Riyadh, vetoing resolutions to freeze weapon deals and to end US support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen.

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The Trump administration has also ignored a legally binding congressional request to release the intelligence community's findings into the assassination.

Leading up to the US election, Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden has pledged to "reassess" the US's relationship with Saudi Arabia.

"Under a Biden-Harris administration, we will reassess our relationship with the Kingdom, end US support for Saudi Arabia's war in Yemen, and make sure America does not check its values at the door to sell arms or buy oil," Biden said.

"America's commitment to democratic values and human rights will be a priority, even with our closest security partners.

"I will defend the right of activists, political dissidents, and journalists around the world to speak their minds freely without fear of persecution and violence. Jamal's death will not be in vain, and we owe it to his memory to fight for a more just and free world."

In a separate development on Tuesday, Representative Adam Schiff (D-CA) introduced the Jamal Khashoggi Press Freedom Accountability Act to ensure the US holds accountable those who commit extrajudicial killings and other gross violations of human rights against journalists.

The legislation would prohibit US foreign assistance to government entities and levy targeted sanctions against individuals that perpetrate gross human rights violations against journalists and would require the Department of State to document incidents of online harassment and electronic surveillance of journalists in its annual human rights reports.

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