Mohammed bin Salman was appointed prime minister of Saudi Arabia in a move that experts said would likely protect the crown prince from a potentially damaging lawsuit in the United States over his alleged role in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
On Tuesday, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia announced the exception of King Salman to Saudi law and naming his son prime minister, officially renouncing the dual title of king and prime minister that he had personally occupied until now.
This development is unlikely to change the balance of power in Saudi Arabia, where the 37-year-old prince is already seen as the kingdom’s de facto ruler and heir to the throne.
But critics of the Saudi government saw the timing of the decision as almost certainly linked to a looming court-ordered deadline next week. It was the Biden administration Asked an American judge to think carefully Whether Prince Mohammed should be protected with sovereign immunity in a case brought by Khashoggi’s fiancée, Hatice Cengiz. This protection is usually granted to a world leader, such as a prime minister or king.
In July, the administration sought to delay submitting its response to the court, which it had initially requested by August 1. U.S. District Judge John Bates has agreed to extend the deadline to October 3. Among other issues, he called on the administration to determine whether it believed Prince Mohammed should be granted immunity under the rules protecting the head of state.
“It looks like [Prince Mohammed] “They were advised to take this step before the Biden administration could respond on October 3,” said Abdullah Al-Odah, Gulf director at Dawn, a Washington-based pro-democracy group that is party to the Khashoggi case. [becoming prime minister] It doesn’t make a difference.”
The White House did not immediately comment. Prince Mohammed denied his personal involvement in Khashoggi’s murder. An American intelligence assessment found that the future king was He may have ordered the killing.
The decision to name Prince Mohammed as prime minister is likely to ease any remaining concerns in Saudi Arabia that the crown prince could be arrested or face legal challenges while traveling abroad.
The civil lawsuit against Prince Mohammed, which Cengiz brought in federal district court in Washington, D.C., in October 2020, alleges that he and other Saudi officials acted in a “premeditated conspiracy” when Saudi agents kidnapped, restrained, drugged and tortured. Khashoggi was killed inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018.
Khashoggi, a former well-informed Saudi who fled the kingdom and was based in Virginia in the southeastern United States, was a fierce critic of the crown prince and was actively seeking to counter Saudi propaganda online at the time he was killed.
“The fight for justice must succeed – it will not stop because Mohammed bin Salman is giving himself another title,” Cengiz said in a statement to the Guardian.
Critics of the Saudi regime, including activists living in exile in the United States and Europe, have warned that the crown prince’s crackdown on dissent has intensified in recent months.
The Guardian has learned that the UK government has sought to intervene in at least one high-profile case, It featured Salma Al-Shehab, a PhD student at the University of Leeds, who was arrested, charged, convicted and sentenced to 34 years in prison. After she returned home from the UK for vacation. Her crime, under Saudi law, was to use Twitter to follow, like, or sometimes retweet tweets of opponents and activists.
A source, who asked not to be named, told the Guardian that officials at the British Embassy in Riyadh had raised concerns about Shehab’s case with the Saudi authorities. The source said Tariq Ahmed, a conservative counterpart, also raised the issue in the August 25 meeting with the Saudi ambassador to the UK.
The UK government will face more pressure to act this week with the expected release of a letter from 400 academics, including staff and student researchers from UK universities and colleges seeking urgent action on the Chehab case.
The letter calls on Prime Minister Liz Truss, and Secretary of State James Cleverly to “publicly condemn the sentencing of Salma Al-Shehab and make representations to their Saudi counterparts for her immediate release.” Sponsored by the pro-democracy group ALQST, which defends human rights in Saudi Arabia. “Salma, like us, should be looking forward to the new school year, rather than languishing behind bars for the ‘crime’ of tweeting her legitimate opinions,” the group said.
The letter states that Shehab, a 34-year-old mother of two who worked as a dental hygienist and was awarded a scholarship to study in the UK, was arrested on January 15, 2021 while on vacation in Saudi Arabia. Court records show that she was placed in solitary confinement, interrogated, and held for 285 days before her trial. She denies the allegations against her.
Truss has not yet indicated that it is likely to adopt a decisive stance on its new counterpart. The British prime minister had a phone call with Prince Mohammed this week in which her office said she had thanked him for helping to release five British detainees held by Russian-backed forces. It also offered the UK’s “continued support and encouragement to make progress on domestic reforms in Saudi Arabia”.
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