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Saudi official threatened Khashoggi investigator: UN confirms report

NEW YORK, USA: The UN human rights office has confirmed published remarks by the independent expert who led an investigation into the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi alleging that a senior Saudi official had made a threat against her.

UN human rights spokesman Rupert Colville confirmed the accuracy of details published in the Guardian newspaper regarding threats to Agnes Callamard, the UN expert on summary killings, in an email reply on Wednesday to Reuters.

The Guardian on Tuesday had quoted Callamard as saying a Saudi official had threatened she would be “taken care of” if she was not reined in following her investigation into the journalist’s murder.

Colville added that the UN human rights office had informed Callamard about the threat in addition to briefing UN security and authorities.

Callamard told the Guardian the threat was conveyed in a January 2020 meeting between Saudi and UN officials in Geneva and that she was told of the incident by a UN colleague.

Callamard led a UN investigation into the October 2018 killing of Khashoggi by Saudi agents at the kingdom’s Istanbul consulate.

Saudi officials did not respond to a request for comment. Callamard did not respond when contacted by the Reuters news agency.

She issued a report in 2019 concluding there was “credible evidence” that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) and senior Saudi officials were responsible for killing the Washington Post newspaper columnist and US resident.

She subsequently called for sanctions against the prince’s assets and a limit to his international engagement.

The prince denies any involvement in the killing but has said he bears ultimate responsibility because it happened under his watch.

The alleged threat was made during a meeting between Geneva-based Saudi diplomats, a visiting Saudi delegation and UN officials, the Guardian reported.

After the Saudi side criticised Callamard’s work in the case, the newspaper reported, one senior Saudi official said he had spoken to people prepared to “take care of her”.

“A death threat. That was how it was understood,” Callamard was cited as saying.

“People that were present, and also subsequently, made it clear to the Saudi delegation that this was absolutely inappropriate.”

Callamard has criticised a Saudi court’s ruling in September to jail eight people for up to 20 years for the murder, accusing the kingdom of making a “mockery of justice” by not punishing more senior officials.

US President Joe Biden’s administration, which has taken a tougher stance on Saudi’s human rights record, last month released an intelligence report that said MBS approved an operation to capture or kill Khashoggi.

The Saudi government rejected the findings and reiterated that the murder was a heinous crime by a rogue group.

Callamard, whose replacement was announced on Wednesday, is taking up a new post as the secretary-general of Amnesty International.

In her letter of resignation from her UN post, Callamard wrote that the work to investigate human rights abuses is “more important than ever, as our world grapples with pandemics, conflict, climate crisis and accelerating technological change”.

Extradition of a Saudi critic

Meanwhile, an Australian citizen who has been extradited to Saudi Arabia just days after a Moroccan court approved the transfer request, and without allowing his lawyers, faces a “credible risk” of torture at the hands of Saudi authorities.

International lawyers acting for Osama al-Hasani, 42, have previously asked United Nations special rapporteurs to raise the dual Australian-Saudi Arabian citizen’s case with Moroccan authorities, citing “credible concerns” that he was being targeted by the Saudi Arabian government for his political opinions.

Last week the Australian government confirmed it had been in contact with Moroccan authorities after the decision. A spokesman said an Australian embassy official had been able to visit al-Hasani.

His lawyers said he had been moved to Saudi Arabia in the past 24 hours.

“The extradition took place just days after a Moroccan court approved Saudi Arabia’s extradition request, and before al-Hasani’s local lawyers were able to take steps to challenge and appeal the decision,” his lawyer, Haydee Dijkstal, said.

“Today’s extradition presents a real risk that al-Hasani’s safety, security and fundamental rights will be irreparably violated in Saudi Arabia, particularly due to credible concerns that al-Hasani is being targeted by the government of Saudi Arabia for political opinions he has expressed which have been critical of the government.