Human Rights group accuses US President of surrendering to pressure tactics
The US government has determined that Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman should be granted immunity for the 2018 murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The Biden administration cited the prince's promotion to the role of prime minister in a court filing submitted on Thursday.
This suggestion has prompted fierce backlash from Khashoggi's fiancee, Hatice Cengiz, as well as from human rights activists.
Khashoggi's brutal murder in Turkey, which the CIA determined was ordered by bin Salman, widely known as MBS, left a major dent in US-Saudi relations. Holding the kingdom and MBS personally accountable was a major talking point for Joe Biden during his presidential campaign, in which he promised to make the country a "pariah" on the international stage.
According to the filing, the US Department of State "recognizes and allows the immunity of Prime Minister Mohammed bin Salman as a sitting head of government." At the same time, it reiterates its "unequivocal condemnation" of Khashoggi's "heinous" murder, but "takes no view" on the merits of the lawsuit filed by Cengiz and human rights organization Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN) against the Crown Prince and his alleged "co-conspirators."
The government's immunity request is non-binding so the decision on MBS' status remains with the judge. Responding to the news, Cengiz said that "Jamal died again."
Sarah Leah Whitson, the head of DAWN, which was founded by Khashoggi himself, described the Biden administration's move as "a capitulation to Saudi pressure tactics." She referred to media reports in March that MBS allegedly refused Biden's request to increase Saudi oil output unless the US administration granted him immunity from the lawsuits.
Meanwhile, Nihad Awad, the head of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, tweeted that "the Biden administration sold Jamal Khashoggi's blood for Saudi oil."
Saudi Arabia has not yet commented on the legal development. According to media reports, the Crown Prince previously reassured Biden that his government had taken measures to prevent "mistakes" similar to those made in Khashoggi's case from happening again in the future.