Although U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he and the Saudis agreed on holding every single person responsible for the murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi accountable, numerous human right organizations underscored that his statements were insufficient, leaving room for Riyadh to continue its crackdown on dissidents.
Following a meeting with Saudi King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), Pompeo said Monday that "both acknowledge that this accountability needs to take place." Yet, many slammed Pompeo for not issuing further sanctions on Riyadh for its human rights violations and regarded his remarks as "a missed opportunity to deliver though message that Washington would not turn a blind eye to the trampling of civil liberties."
"They've made it clear they're going to stand behind MBS," Andrea Prasow of Human Rights Watch, told U.S.-based NBC News on Monday.
Khashoggi was killed and dismembered by a group of Saudi operatives in the country's consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2, 2018. After weeks of evolving narratives, Saudi Arabia admitted that the killing was premeditated, but denied any involvement of the royal family. The incident was blamed on lower-level officials, including five that are now facing the death penalty over their involvement.
Despite more than 100 days have passed since his assassination, the whereabouts of his body remain unknown. The U.S. President Donald Trump administration also has been unwilling to punish MBS, whom the CIA assessed with high confidence that he "personally targeted" Khashoggi and "probably ordered his death," due to the expensive arms sale and Saudi Arabia's alleged role in containing Iran's influence in the region.
Commenting on Riyadh's crackdown against dissidents, Philippe Nassif, the advocacy director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International, said, "Saudi Arabia has always been a gross violator of human rights, but the level of repression under [MBS] and the reach of the kingdom's security services and their willingness to follow citizens around the world seems to have increased significantly."
Khashoggi is hardly the first dissident to have disappeared after voicing his criticisms of Saudi leadership. Since becoming the new power behind the throne in 2017, MBS was set on modernizing the kingdom, leaving little room for criticism. Over the years, he has given women the right to drive but jailed the women activists who called for the reform.
He has also imprisoned intellectuals and businessmen as a warning to those who attempt to oppose the kingdom. MBS also organized kidnappings of dissidents and staged an internal coup on Nov. 4 that resulted with the arrest of more than 200 people including Saudi princes. A Saudi group that tries to track political prisoners, Prisoners of Conscience, estimated last September that there are more than 2,600 Saudi dissidents in detention.
Pressure on the Trump administration to reveal a CIA report on the killing is also mounting as the Congress and leading nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) are reiterating calls for justice and transparency from the Riyadh and the U.S. governments.
"The full disclosure of these records is a vital step towards ending impunity for the perpetrators, no matter how powerful they might be, and allowing the public to evaluate for itself how the U.S. government is responding to this flagrant disregard for the rule of law," said Amrit Singh, a human rights lawyer who directs a project at the Open Society Justice Initiative, on Monday. Last week, the Open Society Justice Initiative filed a lawsuit against the CIA, the National Security Agency, the Defense Department and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence to force them to disclose the CIA's assessment of the Khashoggi murder to the public under the Freedom of Information Act.
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