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'The world is watching': US lawmakers demand justice for Khashoggi

Members of Congress from both major parties pay tribute to Khashoggi and describe necessity of having free press

'We must honour our moral responsibilities to safeguard the lives and liberties of journalists,' Nancy Pelosi says (PEN America/Molly Crabapple and Ms Saffaa)

WASHINGTON - A hundred days since the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, dozens of US lawmakers and activists gathered in the US Capitol to demand justice, with the Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi calling the crime an "affront to humanity".

Politicians from both major parties said the journalist's murder highlighted the importance of having a free press as they paid tribute to Khashoggi, who was murdered by Saudi government agents in Saudi Arabia's Istanbul consulate in early October 2018.

"We must honour our moral responsibilities to safeguard the lives and liberties of journalists both at home and abroad," Pelosi said at the event on Thursday.

In a subtle jab towards President Donald Trump's handling of the crisis, the Democrat added that if Washington allowed commercial interests to override its values, the US would lose "all moral authority to talk about all atrocities anywhere at any time".

Trump has stood by the kingdom, citing Riyadh's arms deals with the United States and its role in containing oil prices. He has also attempted to shield Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who the CIA has said ordered the killing, from the fallout, reiterating Saudi authorities' denial of any involvement by the kingdom's de facto leader.

Calling out bin Salman

Congressman Tom Malinowski, a Democrat, urged Congress to hold the crown prince accountable if the White House fails to do so.

"We can and we should wipe the smug smile of impunity off Mohammed bin Salman's face and restore the proper balance to our relationship with Saudi Arabia," Malinowski told the crowd.

In his brief but fiery speech, Malinowski suggested that bin Salman should not become the next king of Saudi Arabia. He said the nature of Khashoggi's assassination is especially alarming because it took place outside the borders of the kingdom.

We can and we should wipe the smug smile of impunity off Mohammed bin Salman's face and restore the proper balance to our relationship with Saudi Arabia

- Tom Malinowski, US congressman 

"As a country that has given refuge to thousands of Jamal Khashoggis over the years, we have an overriding moral and an overriding national security imperative in making sure this never becomes normal," Malinowski said.

"Anything less than full justice in this case will guarantee that this becomes normal."

Referring to bin Salman, the congressman stressed that Washington should ensure that Saudi Arabia considers the consequences of "giving the keys" to the kingdom for the next 50 years to a man who will be forever tainted by the slaying of Khashoggi.

"That's a message that I believe America's broader interests in Saudi Arabia and the Middle East also require us to send after the chaos that this man has caused - from Yemen to Qatar to Lebanon to his entire neighbourhood," Malinowski continued.

Speaking to Middle East Eye after the event, Malinowski said Congress should be looking to hold bin Salman, the "author of the crime", accountable.

'The world is watching carefully to see how America responds to this challenge,' Washington Post publisher Fred Ryan says (MEE/Ali Harb)
Republican congressmen Will Hurd, Mike McCaul and Steve Chabot also spoke at the event commemorating Khashoggi on Thursday, highlighting the importance of free press and praising journalists for their work.

Congress has invoked the Magnitsky Act, a US human rights law, to compel the Trump administration to investigate Khashoggi's death and impose sanctions on those responsible. A report to Congress is due next month.

Malinowski said Congress should pass legislation requiring sanctions against the perpetrators of the assassination.

Asked if there are enough votes in the House and the Senate to pass practical measures against the Saudi crown prince, Malinowski said: "If there were a vote in both chambers, I think the support would be there."

The Republican-controlled Senate passed a unanimous, symbolic resolution last December, saying that the senators believe bin Salman was behind the crime.

A message

Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen also criticised Trump without naming him for calling the press "the enemy of the people" and labelling the media's work as "fake news".

Van Hollen said Congress should send a bipartisan message to "authoritarian dictators around the world" by demanding justice for Khashoggi.  

He added that politicians should uphold the belief that "freedom of the press is an essential protection for democracy, the rule of law and human rights, not just here but around the world".

Washington Post publisher Fred Ryan said the brutality of Khashoggi's murder and the US government's apparent willingness to accept Saudi Arabia's "repeated lies" have "shocked the collective conscience of freedom loving people around the world".

Riyadh has changed its narrative multiple times on the events that led to Khashoggi's death since he first went missing on 2 October.

Saudi officials first stressed that the journalist left the consulate unharmed, then almost two weeks later they acknowledged that he was killed, but said the incident was the result of a botched investigation. By late October, they acknowledged that the assassination was premeditated.

In mid-November, however, the Saudi prosecutor said the journalist was killed following a fight.

"The world is watching carefully to see how America responds to this challenge, and we should not allow the size of a tyrant's chequebook to blind us to the importance of standing up for American values," Ryan said on Thursday.

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