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Saudi Arabia Rejects US Report on Murder of Journalist Jamal Khashoggi
American journalist, human rights activist and director of Reporters Without Borders international campaigns Rebecca Vincent (L) carries a banner outside Istanbul Caglayan Justice Palace during the trial of 26 officials accused for the murder of Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Istanbul, Turkey, Nov. 24, 2020. (Esra Bilgin/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Saudi Arabia Rejects US Report on Murder of Journalist Jamal Khashoggi

Saudi media offer full-throated support for Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who the report says ordered the 2018 killing and dismemberment of the Saudi dissident

Saudi Arabia has firmly rejected a US intelligence report that found that Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman approved the murder of journalist and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.

A statement released on Friday by the Saudi Foreign Ministry said: “The government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia completely rejects the negative, false and unacceptable assessment in the report pertaining to the kingdom’s leadership, and notes that the report contained inaccurate information and conclusions.”

Following the release of the declassified report on Friday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement: “Individuals should be able to exercise their human rights and fundamental freedoms without fear of government retribution, retaliation, punishment, or harm. Jamal Khashoggi paid with his life to express his beliefs.”

Khashoggi, a Saudi Arabian citizen, entered the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2, 2018, to collect documents for his upcoming marriage. He was never seen leaving the consulate. His fiancée, Hatice Cengiz, sounded the alarm when Khashoggi did not return from his appointment. Turkish media later reported that Khashoggi was strangled shortly after he entered the consulate and that his body was dismembered and disposed of.

A Saudi Arabian court in September 2020 handed down prison terms for eight unidentified defendants accused of involvement in the killing. Five defendants who had been condemned to die before having their death sentences commuted were given prison terms of 20 years. One defendant was sentenced to 10 years and the final two were given seven years.

“This was an abhorrent crime and a flagrant violation of the kingdom’s laws and values,” read the Saudi government statement on Friday. “This crime was committed by a group of individuals that have transgressed all pertinent regulations and authorities of the agencies where they were employed. The relevant authorities in the kingdom took all possible measures within our legal system to ensure that these individuals were properly investigated, and to ensure that justice was served. The concerned individuals were convicted and sentenced by the courts in the kingdom, and these sentences were welcomed by the family of Jamal Khashoggi, may he Rest In Peace.”

Major Saudi news outlets devoted large amounts of space and time to debunk the report, and showed unwavering support to the crown prince, known as MBS, including devoting entire front pages with large headlines backing him. The top headline in the Asharq Al-Awsat, a Saudi-owned Arabic international newspaper headquartered in London, read: “Saudi Arabia rejects ‘wrong conclusion’ in Khashoggi report.” The Dubai-based Al Arabiya news channel, funded by the kingdom, devoted many headlines on its news website defending MBS. Among the headlines were: “This is how Saudi Arabia dealt with the Khashoggi case.” The lead story in the Saudi daily Al Watan reported: The kingdom rejects the US State Department report on Khashoggi’s killing.”

Asharq Al-Awsat and other news websites, including Al Arabiya, also reported on all of the countries in the region, extending as far as Pakistan, and international organizations that expressed support for Saudi Arabia in the wake of the US intelligence report. Organizations include the Arab League, the Gulf Cooperation Council, and the Muslim World League.

Meanwhile, Fahad Al-Deghaither, a columnist for the Saudi Gazette, accused Washington of meddling in other countries’ business. “I would like to point out that this legacy does not mean that there had been no interference on the part of this country in the internal affairs of other countries,” he wrote. Al-Deghaither also defended the Saudi judicial system that tried the Khashoggi case.

In a column in the Al-Jazirah Arabic daily newspaper, editor-in-chief Khalid bin Hamad Almalek wrote about the relationship between the US and Saudi Arabia, saying that Riyadh “does not interfere” in the affairs of others, and it will not allow anyone to interfere in its internal affairs. Saudi Arabia “does not accept that it is dictated to implement values that are inconsistent with its values and traditions, based on the fact that it is a great and independent country, and its economic, security, political and military influence on the global level,” he wrote.

Almalek added that “America does not have the right to bully its strategic ally in the region, and it is not in its interest to employ its internal differences to harm its interests and those of its partners.” In addition, Almalek said, both countries were benefiting from the relationship. “The partnership and alliance between Riyadh and Washington is based on mutual respect and mutual benefit, and no country in the world has a favor over the kingdom except God,” he wrote.

The Saudi government in its statement reiterated its “robust and enduring partnership” with the United States. “This partnership has thrived for nearly eight decades on the basis of mutual respect, and the institutions in both countries have worked diligently to deepen these ties in all aspects, through increased cooperation and consultations to bolster security and stability in the region and the world. We look forward to maintaining the enduring foundations that have shaped the framework of the resilient strategic partnership between the kingdom and the United States.”

Blinken also noted his country’s relationship with the Saudis, saying: “While the United States remains invested in its relationship with Saudi Arabia, President Biden has made clear that partnership must reflect US values. To that end, we have made absolutely clear that extraterritorial threats and assaults by Saudi Arabia against activists, dissidents, and journalists must end. They will not be tolerated by the United States.”

In response to the report, Blinken announced the “Khashoggi Ban,” a new policy that allows the State Department to impose visa restrictions on individuals who, “acting on behalf of a foreign government, are believed to have been directly engaged in serious, extraterritorial counter-dissident activities, including those that suppress, harass, surveil, threaten, or harm journalists, activists, or other persons perceived to be dissidents for their work, or who engage in such activities with respect to the families or other close associates of such persons.” Family members of these individuals also may be subject to visa restrictions under this policy, where appropriate.

Blinken also announced that under the new ban, the US would impose visa restrictions on 76 Saudi individuals “believed to have been engaged in threatening dissidents overseas, including but not limited to the Khashoggi killing.”

The visa ban does apply to the crown prince, himself. “The aim is recalibration, not a rupture, because of the important interests that we do share” with Saudi Arabia, a senior US official said on Friday.

Marcy Oster contributed to this report.

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