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Saudi promotes judge who 'covered up' Khashoggi murder

A Saudi Arabian flag flies [OZAN KOSE/AFP via Getty Images]
A Saudi Arabian flag. [OZAN KOSE/AFP via Getty Images]

The new head of Saudi Arabis's counter terrorism court is Judge Awadh Al-Ahmari. He is alleged to have helped cover up the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and is implicated in the detention, torture and extraction of forced confessions of peaceful human rights activists, a report by Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN) has revealed.

A loyal associate of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman (MBS), Al-Ahmari was part of the delegation accompanying the Saudi Attorney General to Istanbul in October 2018 following the brutal killing of Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate. He is though to have been dispatched to clean up evidence of Khashoggi's assassination and dismembering by a team of Saudi assassins.

Details of Al-Ahmari's role in the cover-up were mentioned in the UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions' report. Al-Ahmari was a member of the Saudi delegation which the UN official said had helped clean up evidence of the crime, preventing Turkish authorities from investigating the premises and providing false information to the public about what had transpired.

Witnesses who spoke to DAWN revealed that Al-Ahmari has been implicated in the detention, torture and extraction of forced confessions of peaceful human rights activists during his time as a detective in the State Security Circuit within the Public Prosecution Office from 2010 to 2022. Saudi activists are said to have been given lengthy sentences based on the false testimonies obtained by Al-Ahmari.

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A royal decree obtained by DAWN through a judicial source issued on 9 June announced the appointment of Al-Ahmari and at least ten other detectives and prosecutors to serve as judges in the Specialised Criminal Court (SCC).

The SCC was created in 2008 to try suspects of terrorism. But in recent years the court has become notorious for rubber stamping a crackdown against critics and human rights activists. Saudi Arabia, like its key allies in the region, Egypt and UAE, has been accused of weaponising the definition of terrorism, especially since the popular Arab uprising in 2011, to include opponents and democracy campaigners.

Al-Ahmari's appointments by royal decree followed the purge of at least nine sitting judges in the SCC. A number of sentences were overturned following his appointment and replaced with harsher sanctions on human rights activists including the sentencing of two Saudi women to 34 and 45 years in prison, respectively, for their use of social media.

"For of his loyal service delivering forced confessions, torture and coverups, Awadh al-Ahmari was rewarded handsomely by Mohamed bin Salman with a job to head the most notorious court used to persecute peaceful political activists," said Abdullah Alaoudh, Gulf director at DAWN. "MBS has dispatched al-Ahmari to silence critics and clean-up his messes, including the murder of Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul."

Executive Director of DAWN, Sarah Leah Whitson, said: "By appointing al-Ahmari to reside over the Specialized Criminal Court (SCC), MBS is signaling to Saudis that only those willing to do his dirty work will be rewarded with promotions despite lacking qualifications."

"At the same time, he is sending a message to the world that he (MBS) has no desire to end his brutality."

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