The crown prince of Saudi Arabia should be investigated over the murder of the dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi because there is “credible evidence” that he and other senior officials are liable for the killing, according to a damning and forensic UN report.
In an excoriating 100-page analysis published on Wednesday of what happened to Khashoggi last October, Agnes Callamard, the UN’s special rapporteur, says the death of the journalist was “an international crime”.
“It is the conclusion of the special rapporteur that Mr Khashoggi has been the victim of a deliberate, premeditated execution, an extrajudicial killing for which the state of Saudi Arabia is responsible under international human rights law,” she says.
Using recordings of conversations from inside the Istanbul consulate where Khashoggi was killed, her report pieces together his last moments, and how he was confronted by Saudi officials, one of whom said: “We are coming to get you.”
When Khashoggi refused to cooperate, a struggle can be heard, including heavy panting. The special rapporteur’s report concludes: “Assessments of the recordings by intelligence officers in Turkey and other countries suggest that Mr Khashoggi could have been injected with a sedative and then suffocated using a plastic bag.”
The findings will heap pressure on Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to explain what he knew about the murder of Khashoggi. The kingdom has previously described it as a rogue operation that the heir to the throne knew nothing about.
That is not the view of the special rapporteur’s report. Its main findings include:
• There is credible evidence, warranting further investigation, of high-level Saudi officials’ individual liability, including the crown prince’s.
• Khashoggi’s death was an extrajudicial killing. His attempted kidnapping would constitute a violation under international human rights law … and may constitute an act of torture under the terms of the convention against torture.
• The investigations conducted by Saudi Arabia and Turkey failed to meet international standards regarding the investigation into unlawful deaths.
• The Saudi investigation into the murder was not conducted in good faith, and might amount to obstructing justice.
• A demand that the trial of the 11 suspects in Saudi Arabia be suspended amid concerns about secrecy over the proceedings and lack of credibility.
• The killing of Khashoggi has highlighted the vulnerabilities of dissidents living abroad and the risks they are facing of covert actions by the authorities of their countries of origin or non-state actors associated to them.
The report states: “Some eight months after the execution of Mr Khashoggi, the determination and assignment of individual responsibilities remain clouded in secrecy and lack of due process.”
It adds: “To date the Saudi state has failed to offer public recognition of its responsibility for the killing of Mr Khashoggi, and it has failed to offer an apology to Mr Khashoggi’s family, friends and colleagues for his death and for the manner in which he was killed.
“The special rapporteur obtained information regarding a financial package offered to the children of Mr Jamal Khashoggi but it is questionable whether such package amounts to compensation under international human rights law.”
Khashoggi, 59, was killed when he entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on 2 October last year. One of the region’s most important journalistic voices, he considered journalism within, about and for the region to be vital, the special rapporteur states.
The report describes how he went to the consulate by appointment, to obtain papers he needed to pave the way for his marriage to his fiancée, Hatice Cengiz.
Saudi Arabia had been trying to get him to return from the US, where he worked as a journalist for the Washington Post, but he feared for his safety.
The report relies on recordings of conversations within the consulate in the days prior to his death, which show how a team of Saudi officials flew from Riyadh to Istanbul to kill him.
In a recording from inside the consulate on October 1, one man was recorded saying: “A commission is coming from Saudi Arabia tomorrow. They have something to do in the consulate … Their work inside will take two or three days.”
The report outlines conversations that took place shortly before Khashoggi arrived at the Turkish consulate on the day he died.
One Saudi official asked whether it would “be possible to put the trunk in a bag”. Another replied: “No. Too heavy. It is not a problem. The body is heavy. First time I cut on the ground. If we take plastic bags and cut it into pieces, it will be finished. We will wrap each of them.”
Khashoggi entered the consulate at 1.15pm on 2 October, the report says.
According to recordings, the conversation with him first focused on whether he would come back to Saudi Arabia.
An official told him: “We will have to take you back. There is an order from Interpol. Interpol requested you to be sent back. We are coming to get you.”
He was asked about his phones and told to type a message, which he refused to do, the special rapporteur says.
According to the recordings, Khashoggi said: “What should I say? See you soon? I can’t say kidnapping. I will not write anything.”
An official then said to him: “Type it, Mr Jamal. Hurry up. Help us so that we can help you because at the end we will take you back to Saudi Arabia and if you don’t help us you know what will happen at the end; let this issue find a good end.”
At 1.33pm, Khashoggi could be heard saying: “There is a towel here. Are you going to give me drugs?”
“We will anaesthetize you,” came a reply.
In the recordings, sounds of a struggle can be heard, the UN report says.
The special rapporteur’s report adds: “Mr Khashoggi’s execution is emblematic of a global pattern of targeted killing of, and threats against, journalists and media workers that is regularly denounced by states, UN agencies, special procedures, and by numerous international and national human rights organizations.”