‘Blemish on Queen’s memory’: Saudi crown prince’s planned visit condemned | Mohammed bin Salman

Mohammed bin Salman’s plan to land in London on Sunday to pay his respects to the queen has been condemned by Hatice Cengiz and other human rights campaigners as a “stain” on the monarch’s memory and an attempt by the Saudi crown prince to use mourning to “seek legitimacy and normalization”.

Cengiz, who was engaged to Jamal Khashoggi, the Saudi journalist who was killed and dismembered by Saudi agents at the Istanbul consulate in 2018, said she wished Prince Mohammed would be arrested for murder when he lands in London, but said she feared that the British authorities would turn a blind eye to serious and credible accusations against the future king.

A source has told the Guardian that Prince Mohammed will travel to Britain to pay his condolences to the royal family, although there was no confirmation or information on whether he would attend the funeral at Westminster Abbey. CNN Arabic first reported the news on Thursday evening.

A declassified US intelligence report released in 2021 found that the operation to kill or kidnap Khashoggi was approved by Prince Mohammed. The intelligence report said the assessment was based on the crown prince’s “control over decision-making” in the kingdom, “the direct involvement of a key adviser and members of [the prince’s] protective detail”, and his “support for the use of violent measures” to silence dissidents such as Khashoggi. The crown prince has denied that he was personally involved in planning the murder.

“The queen’s passing is a really sad occasion,” Cengiz said. “The Crown Prince should not be allowed to be part of this grief and not be allowed to tarnish her memory and use this time of grief to seek legitimacy and normalization.”

News that the heir to the Saudi throne would travel to London for the first time since 2018 was met with consternation among some exiled Saudis, including Abdullah Alaoudh, a prominent Washington-based Saudi dissident who serves as director of research for Dawn, a non-profit founded of Khashoggi promoting democracy in the Middle East.

Alaoudh said Prince Mohammed’s trip came as Saudi Arabia cracked down “harder and harder” on human rights activists at home, including the arrest of a 34-year-old PhD student at Leeds University named Salma al-Shehab, who was arrested on a holiday trip home to the kingdom and sentenced to 34 years in prison for using Twitter.

“He is encouraged to travel the world after the Khashoggi case as a result of the dedicated rehabilitation process – whether they call it this or not – by Western leaders,” Alaoudh said, pointing to visits to the kingdom by Boris Johnson and Joe Biden.

In its report, CNN Arabic said Prince Mohammed would not attend the funeral. Alaoudh, whose father is a prominent reformist cleric facing a death sentence in Saudi Arabia, said he believed the decision probably reflected the crown prince’s fragile ego because, Alaoudh said, he probably would not have wanted to attend a funeral where he could not have sat prominently.

“He would sit behind other powerful figures,” Alaoudh said. “But MBS wants full recognition of his power, his existence, to come to the front row. He cares a lot about these symbols and doesn’t want to be humiliated.”

Another activist, Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, the UK-based director of advocacy at the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy, said: “Authoritarian dictators should not use the queen’s death as an opportunity to try to rehabilitate their image while escalating repressive campaigns in their country.”

Agnes Callamard, the secretary-general of Amnesty International, which previously investigated the murder of Khashoggi and whose life was allegedly threatened by a senior Saudi official, said Prince Mohammed’s plan to pay respects brought to mind the killing of the Washington Post journalist. , whose own family had been “denied the right to bury Jamal with the dignity he deserved”. Saudi Arabia has denied that it ever intended to threaten Callamard.

The crown prince’s visit follows years of reports since Khashoggi’s murder that critics of the kingdom living abroad have faced surveillance and threats from Saudi authorities, including in Britain.

A British judge ruled last month that a case against the kingdom brought by a dissident satirist who was targeted by spyware could go ahead, in a decision that has been hailed as precedent-setting.

The case against Saudi Arabia was brought by Ghanem Almasarir, a prominent satirist granted asylum in Britain, who is a frequent critic of the Saudi royal family. At the center of the case are allegations that Saudi Arabia ordered the hacking of Almasarir’s phone and that he was physically assaulted by the kingdom’s agents in London in 2018.

Saudi Arabia’s attempt to have the case dismissed on the grounds that it enjoyed sovereign immunity protection under the State Immunity Act 1978 was rejected by a High Court judge, who found that Almasarir had presented enough evidence to conclude, on a balance of probabilities, that Saudi Arabia was responsible for the alleged assault. Saudi Arabia’s claim that the case was too weak or speculative to proceed was rejected.

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