Lawyers for the fiancée of murdered Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Hatice Cengiz, and advocacy group Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN), successfully served Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman (MBS) with the complaint they filed in the District of Columbia Federal District Court on 20 October 2020.
The complaint alleges that the 35-year-old crown prince, widely known as MBS, and several other Saudi officials were "acting in a conspiracy and with premeditation, kidnapped, bound, drugged and tortured, and assassinated US-resident journalist and democracy advocate Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, Turkey," and that the murder caused the plaintiffs grievous injury and harm.
The lawsuit went on to say that "the ruthless torture and murder of Mr Khashoggi shocked the conscience of people throughout the world. The objective of the murder was clear – to halt Mr Khashoggi's advocacy in the United States, principally as the executive director of Plaintiff Dawn [Democracy for the Arab World Now], for democratic reform in the Arab world."
The civil lawsuit is seeking relief under the Alien Tort Claims Act, and the Torture Victim Protection Act.
Three lawyers from the firm representing MBS, Kellogg, Hansen, Todd, Figel & Frederick, were named in the court documents. They were served notices demanding the appearance of "defendant His Royal Highness Mohammed Bin Salman Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, Crown Prince of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia."
Faisal Gill, managing partner of the Gill Law Firm, and one of the lawyers representing Cengiz and Dawn, told the Independent: "This an important moment. The lawyers for the crown prince have appeared in court and that means the case can now proceed."
Explaining the broader implications, Gill said: "This lawsuit seeks not only to hold MBS and other senior Saudi Arabian officials accountable for Jamal's murder but also to put the Saudi government and other abusive governments on notice that they will pay a price for such extrajudicial killings of journalists and activists."
In comments related to the case, Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director of DAWN, said: "We are committed to holding Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman accountable in a court of law for his murder of our founder, Jamal Khashoggi, and are grateful Judge Bates approved our motion for alternative service."
Referring to the decision by the US not to punish the MBS, Whitson added: "While MBS may have evaded sanctions by our government for his role in the murder, he won't evade prosecution by our judicial system for the damage he has caused us and Cengiz."
Last month President Joe Biden released a report by US intelligence which concluded that MBS approved the murder of Khashoggi. However despite his pledge to punish MBS saying he would make the Saudis "pay the price, and make them in fact the pariah that they are," the new administration has disappointed rights groups by failing to deliver on his commitment.
Saudi dissident Khalid Al-Jabri warned of the consequence of Biden's failure to impose penalties on MBS saying that the lives of Saudi opposition figures have been placed in grave danger. In August the exiled former Saudi intelligence official filed a lawsuit of his own against MBS accusing the crown prince of approving his assassination.