Oct 20, 2020 - World

Jamal Khashoggi’s fiancee and pro-democracy group sue Saudi crown prince

A poster picturing Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi and a lightened candle during a gathering outside the Saudi Arabia consulate in Istanbul
Demonstartor holds a poster of Jamal Khashoggi outside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. Photo: Yasin Akgul/AFP via Getty Images

Hatice Cengiz and Democracy for the Arab World Now filed a federal lawsuit on Tuesday alleging that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the murder of journalist and human rights activist Jamal Khashoggi.

Why it matters: Attorneys representing Cengiz and DAWN, a nonprofit, told reporters that the purpose of the lawsuit was to have a U.S. court hold MBS responsible for the killing and to obtain documents that would reveal the truth about Khashoggi's death. The lawsuit claims that Khashoggi was tortured, killed and dismembered “pursuant to a directive of Defendant Mohammed bin Salman.”

What they're saying: MBS and roughly two dozen co-defendants “saw Khashoggi’s actions in the United States as an existential threat to their pecuniary and other interests and, accordingly, conspired to commit the heinous acts that are the subject of this suit,” the lawsuit says.

  • Cengiz, Khashoggi's fiancee, spoke to reporters by videoconference on Tuesday, saying, “I ask that [the U.S. government] stand with me and all those who loved Jamal and say, ‘We will support your efforts to fully uncover the truth and ensure that those responsible are found liable in a court of law,’" the Washington Post writes.
  • The 61-page complaint recounted how Khashoggi was killed two years ago by government agents, and it claims he was targeted for exposing government abuses in U.S.-allied nations throughout the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt.

The big picture: President Trump and members of his administration have publicly stood by Saudi Arabia since Khashoggi’s 2018 death, despite the CIA's assessment that MBS ordered the killing.

  • Foreign leaders are generally exempt from civil suits in U.S. courts, however, the plaintiffs are being sued under the Alien Tort Statute and the Torture Victim Protection Act, which gives U.S. courts the ability to defend victims of “flagrant human rights violations” outside their jurisdiction, per the Wash Post.
  • The attorneys also clarified that MBS is neither the head of state nor the head of the Saudi government, reducing his claim to immunity.
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