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Federal Judge Reluctantly Dismisses Lawsuit Against Saudi Crown Prince

— December 6, 2022

In his ruling, the judge said that–while he might have considered arguments against Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman–he ultimately decided to dismiss the complaint after the Biden administration stated that, as a head of the Saudi state, bin Salman is entitled to immunity and cannot be sued in an American court.

A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed against Saudi Arabia Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman after the Biden administration recommended that the royal be granted immunity from a civil complaint filed by the widow of Jamal Khashoggi.

According to CNN, Judge John Bates wrote that, despite his “uneasiness” in drafting the decision, the U.S. government had told the District Court that Mohammed bin Salman should be granted immunity because he also holds the title of prime minister and is therefore “entitled to head of state immunity.”

In his opinion, Bates suggested that he was reluctant to offer the crown price immunity, both because of his suspected role in Khashoggi’s murder and the timing of his appointment as prime minister.

CNN notes that Bin Salman was only appointed the Saudi prime minister in September.

Critics of the Saudi government have speculated that the crown prince was only elevated to the position to afford him immunity from the lawsuit filed jointly by Khashoggi’s fiancée, Hatice Cengiz, and advocacy organization DAWN.

Bates opined that the “suspicious timing” of the prince’s appointment seemed too coincidental to be genuine.

Poster demanding justice for the murder of Saudi journalist and human rights activist Jamal Khashoggi. Khashoggi was murdered after being lured to the Consulate of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in Istanbul in 2018. Image via Wikimedia Commons via Flickr/user:POMED. (CCA-BY-2.0).

“A contextualized look at the [Saudi] Royal Order thus suggests that it was not motivated by a desire for bin Salman to be the head of government, but instead to shield him from potential liability in this case,” Bates wrote in his ruling.

As has reported before, the Biden administration had previously decried the Saudi government’s role in the “heinous” killing of Khashoggi, who was likely murdered in the kingdom’s diplomatic mission in Istanbul in 2018.

Nevertheless, the federal Department of Justice asked the courts to grant Mohammed bin Salman immunity from Cengiz’s claim, due to the United States’ “unbroken practice” of shielding foreign heads of state from civil litigation.

“The United States has consistently, and across administrations, applied these principles to heads of state, heads of government and foreign ministers while they are in office,” State Department deputy spokesperson Vedant Patel said in a statement “This is an unbroken practice, and it is also something that we expect others to affront to the United States as well.”

Bates stated that, had the Biden administration not asked the court to consider the nation’s diplomatic needs, then he would have considered Cengiz and DAWN’s arguments that the case be allowed to proceed.

However, Bates found that neglecting the government’s position would “unduly interfere” with America’s foreign interests and policy.

Sarah Leah Witson, the executive director of DAWN, said that the organization is considered its next steps.

“We are consulting w [sic] our lawyers on next steps,” Witson wrote. “Our struggle for justice continues.”


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