Khashoggi's fiancee Hatice Cengiz: Jamal's murder changed everything. MbS must be punished

Khashoggi's fiancee Hatice Cengiz: Jamal's murder changed everything. MbS must be punished
A year ago, Jamal Khashoggi was murdered, dismembered and disposed of in secret by a Saudi hit squad while the real criminals have not yet been brought to justice.
6 min read
01 October, 2019
Hatice Cengiz was due to marry journalist Jamal Khashoggi before he was brutally murdered [Getty]

One year ago this week, Hatice Cengiz waited outside the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul as her fiance, the journalist Jamal Khashoggi, went inside to collect papers so the couple could get married.

She never saw him again. Khashoggi was murdered, dismembered and disposed of in secret by a Saudi hit squad, which was despatched from the kingdom likely on the orders of crown prince Mohammad bin Salman, or MbS.

This week, Cengiz spoke with The New Arab among a small group of reporters in New York, alongside Agnes Callamard, the United Nations official who investigated the killing and who said the real criminals would be brought to book – eventually.

"October 2, 2018, is the date that my life changed totally. It changed 180 degrees," Cengiz said via a Turkish interpreter.

"Jamal was very close to my heart. We shared the same ethics and principles. His values were my values. That's why we were getting married, and that's why I keep defending his rights in international forums."

Cengiz expressed frustration at the slow progress towards identifying and prosecuting Khashoggi's killers. A domestic Saudi trial of 11 suspects is widely seen as a sham; international investigators have pointed to complicity at higher levels than the defendants.

Khashoggi's fiancee Hatice Cengiz (R) cries as UN Special Rapporteur Agnes Callamard (L) makes a speech during the panel discussion [Getty]

The CIA assessed that MbS ordered the killing. In June, Callamard issued a report that detailed a "deliberate, premeditated execution," and called for the ambitious young royal and other top Saudi officials to be probed.

MbS has not since visited the United States or Europe and, while he was briefly cold-shouldered by foreign leaders, US President Donald Trump has defended the prince and kept weapons flowing to the oil-rich kingdom.

"I don't want Saudi Arabia to be punished. I have no problem with the country or its people. The problem I have is with those who brutally killed my beloved one. I want them to be punished," said Cengiz.

The 37-year-old Turkish researcher bashed the UN and the European Union for paying lip service to human rights but dropping those principles when they hurt ties with Riyadh, which has deep pockets and powerful friends in Washington and London.

Cengiz was speaking at the UN headquarters, where Saudi officials were granted space in the building's sunlit foyer to showcase their aid work in Yemen, while the Khashoggi event was held upstairs behind a sign saying it did not have "endorsement" from the world body.

Still, there is some pressure on Riyadh. On Monday, two dozen mainly European countries called out Saudi Arabia at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva over Khashoggi, unfair trials of dissidents and allegations of torture.

Cengiz appeared beside Callamard, the UN special rapporteur who investigated Khashoggi's killing and whose recommendations for further action gained little traction in the UN Security Council or with UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres.

Callamard expressed frustration at the weak global appetite to turn the screws on Riyadh, but noted that the wheels of justice spin slowly for well-connected leaders and called for "patience, resilience and time".

"The notion that justice ought to be delivered in one year, that very rarely happens," said Callamard, who referred metaphorically to "naked emperors, silent servants and weavers of fabrication" blocking the way to justice.

Callamard called on Turkey to launch a public inquest for Khashoggi, for the CIA to publish its files and for the FBI to probe the crime.

Read also: Turkey's Erdogan says Khashoggi killing 'most influential event' since 9/11

A draft US law, if enacted, would unmask and sanction the culprits and send "ripple effects far beyond Capitol Hill and Riyadh," she said.

A credible criminal investigation within the kingdom appears to be a long way off, said Callamard. But, she added, that was once true for Sudan's ex-president Omar al-Bashir, who last month appeared caged in a Khartoum courthouse facing corruption charges.

"A case in court in Saudi Arabia is going to be a very long haul," said Callamard, an expert on extrajudicial killings. "It's not gonna happen within the next year unless something quite radical happens to that country."

Meanwhile, the G20 group of rich countries should relocate their November 2020 meeting, which is set to be in Riyadh, and avoid a "catastrophe for the very values upon which many of our countries are founded," she added.

The French academic also outlined plans to create a permanent, independent UN body to automatically "investigate any future targeted killings" without needing a green light from Guterres or the frequently-deadlocked Security Council.

Khashoggi, a US-based Washington Post columnist who was once a confidant of Saudi royals but had grown increasingly critical of Riyadh, was reportedly lured to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul as part of an elaborate plot to silence him.

The US resident's body was reportedly dismembered and removed from the building; his remains have not been found.

The killing sparked global outrage, damaging MbS' international profile and undercutting his ambitions to improve the country's human weak human rights record and diversify its oil-dependent economy.

Officials in Riyadh, who initially said Khashoggi had left the consulate unharmed, now say the journalist was killed in a rogue operation that did not involve the prince.

"We didn't kill him. He was murdered by agents of the Saudi government without authorisation, without permission," Saudi foreign minister Adel al-Jubeir told a New York think tank on Tuesday.

"In this case, we're guilty, when the principle is innocent until found guilty."

Callamard and Cengiz spoke during the UN General Assembly in New York, hours after revelations in a new television show that showed MbS accepting some degree of blame for Khashoggi's brutal slaying.

In a trailer to a PBS documentary set to air this week, MbS said: "I get all the responsibility because it happened under my watch". But the prince did not confess to ordering the killing, saying he could not watch all "three million government employees" in Saudi.

Read more here: Saudi crown prince admits 'all responsibility' over Khashoggi murder but denies prior knowledge of execution

The royal's words cut little ice with Lina al-Hathloul, the sister of Loujain, a detained Saudi women's rights activist. Loujain had campaigned to end the kingdom's ban on women driving, but was jailed in May 2018, weeks before the ban was lifted.

"Saudi Arabia is becoming a police state. There is no room for freedom of thought anymore, no room for freedom of speech," said Lina al-Hathloul, at the same event as Cengiz.

"It's not only clerics or journalists or activists, everyone who dares to speak is a potential victim."

James Reinl is a journalist, editor and current affairs analyst. He has reported from more than 30 countries and won awards for covering wars in Sri Lanka, Congo and Somalia, Haiti's earthquake and human rights abuses in Iran.

Follow him on Twitter: @jamesreinl