US senators trigger human rights probe over Saudi journalist Khashoggi feared killed

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Twenty-two U.S. senators on Wednesday forced a U.S. investigation of whether human rights sanctions should be imposed over the disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist last seen as he entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2.

In a letter, the senators said they had triggered a provision of the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act requiring the president to determine whether a foreign person is responsible for a gross human rights violation.

"Our expectation is that in making your determination you will consider any relevant information, including with respect to the highest ranking officials in the Government of Saudi Arabia," they said.

The Republican and Democratic leaders of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senators Bob Corker and Bob Menendez, and their counterparts on the Appropriations subcommittee that funds the State Department, Lindsey Graham and Patrick Leahy, triggered the Magnitsky action.

But the 18 others also signed the letter to send Trump a strong bipartisan message of support for a serious U.S. response to Khashoggi's disappearance, Senate aides said.

The Global Magnitsky Act requires a report within 120 days of the letter with a decision on the imposition of sanctions on anyone deemed responsible for a serious rights violation such as torture, prolonged detention without trial or extrajudicial killing of someone exercising freedom of expression.

"The recent disappearance of Saudi journalist and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi suggests that he could be a victim of a gross violation of international recognized human rights," the letter said.

Khashoggi, a Washington Post contributor who has written columns critical of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, disappeared on Oct. 2 and was last seen entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul where he went to pick up a document he needed for his planned marriage. Turkish sources have said they believe Khashoggi was killed inside the mission.

Saudi Arabia denies involvement in Khashoggi's disappearance.

The Trump administration -- which has moved the U.S. closer to ally Saudi Arabia during its tenure -- has expressed concern about the incident but has refused to even to entertain questions about what the consequences would be if allegations turn out to be true.

Senators and even Khashoggi's fiancee have called on Trump to intensify investigations.

Khashoggi had been living in self-imposed exile in the U.S. for the last year.

The 2012 Magnitsky Act imposed visa bans and asset freezes on Russian officials linked to the 2009 death in prison of Sergei Magnitsky, a 37-year-old Russian whistleblower. It became the Global Magnitsky Act in 2016 when it was expanded to cover rights abusers in any country.

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