Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) has been embroiled in yet another human rights issue. Last week, Dr Saad Al Aljabri accused MBS of ordering an assassination attempt on him in 2018. Dr Saad was a former top aide in the Saudi Interior Ministry who now lives in Toronto in self-imposed exile. This accusation follows less than two weeks after Washington Post correspondent Jamal Khashoggi was murdered in Istanbul.
Aljabri brought his case before the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia and according to the New York Times it marks the first time that a former senior Saudi official has openly criticized MBS “of carrying out a widespread and sometimes violent campaign to silence critical voices.”
The court has since issued a summons (notice of lawsuit) to MBS and 12 others involved in the alleged assassination attempt, adding “if you fail to respond, judgement by default will be entered against you for the relief demand in the complaint.”
Before MBS rose to power and Muhammad bin Nayef (MBN) held the Crown Prince title, Aljabri was regarded as one of Saudi Arabia’s top intelligence officials. Playing a key role in Riyadh’s fight against Al Qaeda, Aljabri helped solidify a close security partnership with the U.S. and developed close ties with a number of high ranking U.S. intelligence members.
However, he was dismissed in 2015 and fled the country when MBS began to challenge Crown Prince MBN. Since 2017, MBS has repeatedly demanded that Aljabri return to Saudi Arabia, claiming he was “involved in many large cases of corruption that have been proven.”
MBS has called upon the global community and INTERPOL to aid his efforts. However, INTERPOL denied Saudi Arabia’s request, claiming it was a politically motivated notice that was not in accordance with the organization’s founding constitution.
While Aljabri continues to live freely in Canada, MBS has not ceased his pursuit of the former Saudi official. In March 2020, Saudi authorities arrested Aljabri’s brother and his two children, Omar (22) and Sarah (20) who appear to be held hostage as a bargaining chip.
Aljabri has publicly expressed hope that the lawsuit will alleviate “the torment” he and his family has suffered from for three years. He has further stated the impending trial is an opportunity for the Saudis to bring their case to court and that “we are making it easier for them by coming to court.”
However, legal experts say it is unlikely that Aljabri’s case will make any headway with University of California law professor Chimène Keitner calling the lawsuit “a long shot.” The New York Times has even claimed that “the real aim of the suit was to get a public forum for [Aljabri’s] allegations,” rather than to produce any substantive legal action.
Ultimately, the thought of MBS appearing in a U.S. courtroom is a laughable idea. After all, he is the man who has suppressed free speech throughout Saudi Arabia and has ordered the execution of hundreds of political opponents and outspoken. The capture, killing, and dismemberment of Jamal Khashoggi perfectly characterizes the nature of the Crown Prince, and why it is foolish and naive to hope that this case will bring MBS to justice.
What is needed is an accumulation of support from a wide variety of networks, which is why this lawsuit must serve as a stepping stone rather than an end point. Foreign leaders must be willing to recognize this case as yet another unacceptable attempt by MBS to further assert his grasp of political power and control over the Saudi establishment. By working together and collectively calling on Saudi Arabia to abandon its repeated human rights atrocities, the international community has the power to make MBS accountable for his crimes.
The U.S., for example, can threaten to end its supply of weapons and intelligence support to Saudi Arabia and even threaten to discontinue its partnership with Riyadh all together if the country does not comply with basic human rights. Until nations from all corners of the world are willing to join forces and hold Saudi Arabia accountable, human rights cannot be protected in this country where authoritarianism is embraced and democratic principles are denied.
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