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US intelligence agencies concluded Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the 2018 murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi. (Photo: Adbulhamid Hosbas/Andalou Agency via Getty Images)

Members of Reporters Without Borders attend a protest demanding justice for murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi outside the Embassy of Saudi Arabia in Berlin, Germany on October 1, 2019. (Photo: Abdulhamid Hosbas/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Reporters Without Borders Files Unprecedented Suit Against Saudis for Khashoggi Murder, Other 'Crimes Against Humanity'

"No one should be above international law, especially when crimes against humanity are at stake. The urgent need for justice is long overdue."

Brett Wilkins

The international advocacy group Reporters Without Borders on Monday filed what it called a "groundbreaking" lawsuit in Germany against Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, accusing the heir to the Saudi throne of "crimes against humanity" in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and "widespread and systematic" abuse of journalists in the repressive kingdom. 

"Those responsible for the persecution of journalists in Saudi Arabia, including the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, must be held accountable for their crimes."
—Christophe Deloire, RSF

The group, known by its French acronym RSF, filed the criminal complaint—which is more than 500 pages long—with the German Public Prosecutor General of the Federal Court of Justice in Karlsruhe.

The suit involves the cases of 35 Saudi journalists—murdered Washington Post columnist Khashoggi plus 34 others, 33 of whom are currently imprisoned in the fundamentalist theocracy. Among these are the blogger Raif Badawi, jailed in 2012 for allegedly insulting Islam. 

According to RSF:

A crime against humanity is a widespread and systematic attack committed by individuals in full knowledge of this attack against a civilian population. In Saudi Arabia, journalists, who are a civilian population according to international law, are victims of widespread and systematic attacks for political reasons in furtherance of a state policy aimed at punishing or silencing them. The five suspects identified in the complaint are fully responsible.

Pursuant to the German Code of Crimes against International law (VStGB), the complaint  shows that these journalists are the victims of multiple counts of crimes against humanity, including willful killing, torture, sexual violence and coercion, enforced disappearance, unlawful deprivation of physical liberty, and persecution.

The 35 cases detailed in the complaint reveal a system that threatens the life and liberty of any journalist in Saudi Arabia—in particular those who speak out publicly against the Saudi government. For RSF, the essential role of journalists to inform the public on issues of general interest, to monitor the actions of the authorities, and to hold them accountable makes crimes against them all the more grave and warranting investigation.

The complaint identifies five primary suspects: Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Mohammed Bin Salman, his close advisor Saud Al-Qahtani, and three other high-ranking Saudi officials 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. These primary suspects are named without prejudice to any other individual the investigation might identify as responsible for these crimes against humanity.

The RSF suit was filed days after the administration of President Joe Biden declassified a U.S. intelligence report concluding that the Saudi prince approved Khashoggi's 2018 assassination. Biden came under fire from human rights advocates after deciding not to punish the Saudi regime over the murder, with critics warning impunity would embolden bin Salman. 

"Those responsible for the persecution of journalists in Saudi Arabia, including the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, must be held accountable for their crimes," said Christophe Deloire, RSF secretary-general. "While these serious crimes against journalists continue unabated, we call on the German prosecutor to take a stand and open an investigation into the crimes we have revealed. No one should be above international law, especially when crimes against humanity are at stake. The urgent need for justice is long overdue."

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