Saudi Arabia’s crown prince Mohammed bin Salman and other high-ranking Saudi officials have been accused of committing crimes against humanity in a criminal complaint filed in Germany by Reporters without Borders (RSF), the press freedom group.
The 500-page complaint, filed with the German public prosecutor in general in the federal court of justice in Karlsruhe, centres on the “widespread and systematic” persecution of journalists in Saudi Arabia, including the arbitrary detention of 34 journalists there and the assassination of Jamal Khashoggi, the Washington Post columnist.
“These journalists are the victims of unlawful killing, torture, sexual violence and coercion and forced disappearance,” said Christophe Deloire, the secretary-general of Reporters Without Borders, at a press conference on Tuesday.
The complaint came just days after the US release of an unclassified intelligence report into Khashoggi’s 2018 murder in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, which US intelligence agencies said was approved by the 35-year-old Saudi heir.
RSF has chosen to file its complaint in Germany because German laws give its courts jurisdiction over international crimes committed abroad, even without a German connection. RSF indicated that it hoped its complaint, which centres on Prince Mohammed and four senior officials, will lead the German prosecutor to open what is known as a “situation analysis”, which could lead to a formal prosecutorial investigation into whether the Saudi officials have committed crimes against humanity by targeting reporters.
“The official opening of a criminal investigation in Germany into the crimes against humanity in Saudi Arabia would be a world first,” said RSF Germany director Christian Mihr. “We ask the public prosecutor general to open a situation analysis, with a view to formally launching a prosecutorial investigation and issuing arrest warrants.”
The prosecutor’s office said it had received the complaint and was assessing its legal and factual merits.
RSF said that the journalists who are in detention are victims of multiple counts of crimes against humanity, including wilful killing, torture, sexual violence and coercion, enforced disappearance, unlawful deprivation of liberty, and persecution. By focusing on dozens of cases of journalists who are being detained, RSF said it was revealing that all Saudi journalists, particularly those who speak out against the government, were under threat.
“The truth has been revealed but that is not enough,” said Khashoggi’s fiancee, Hatice Cengiz, who said she would give evidence as part of any investigation. “The murderer cannot be allowed to get away with it, otherwise it will happen again.”
The bid by RSF to try to get German prosecutors to open a case against the Saudi crown prince followed the recent conviction in Germany of a former Syrian secret police officer of aiding and abetting crimes against humanity for his role in the torture of protesters a decade ago. Eyad al-Gharib, a 44-year-old former low-ranking officer in the Syrian intelligence service, carried out orders in one of Bashar al-Assad’s prisons.
The “suspects” in RSF’s Saudi case are the crown prince, known as “MBS”, his close adviser Saud al-Qahtani, Ahmad Asiri, who has been sanctioned by the US and is alleged to have supervised Khashoggi’s murder, Mohammad al-Otaibi, the consul general in Istanbul at the time of the murder, and Maher Mutreb, an intelligence officer who is accused of leading the torture.
The group said in a statement that the named suspects were identified for their “organisational or executive responsibility in Khashoggi’s killing, as well as their involvement in developing a state policy to attack and silence journalists.”
The Biden administration has been criticised for its decision not to take further actions against Prince Mohammed, even as it publicly acknowledged he was behind the Khashoggi murder.
The US intelligence agencies based the assessment on the prince’s “control of decision-making in the kingdom, the direct involvement of a key adviser and members of [the prince’s] protective detail in the operation, and [his] support for using violent measures to silence dissidents abroad, including Khashoggi.”
It also found that the prince’s “absolute control” of the kingdom’s security and intelligence organisations made it “highly unlikely” that Saudi officials would have carried out an operation like Khashoggi’s murder without his approval.
Khashoggi had gone to the Saudi consulate to pick up documents needed for his wedding. Once inside, he died at the hands of more than a dozen Saudi security and intelligence officials and others who had assembled ahead of his arrival. Surveillance cameras had tracked his route and those of his alleged killers in Istanbul in the hours before his killing.
The Saudi government has denied it planned to assassinate the Washington Post columnist and has said the killing was a rogue operation by Saudi agents.