The Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights (RWCHR) has submitted a list of “at least” 18 Saudi Arabian officials to the Canadian government, who it believes should be sanctioned in connection with the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Irwin Cotler, the head of the RWCHR, said they are mainly associated with the country’s security and intelligence services, including some who are “very close” to Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman. “There is clear agreement they are implicated in the murder,” he said.
Cotler said sanctions could be levied under the so-called Magnitsky Act, which was passed by Parliament a year ago.
Officially called the Justice for Victims of Corrupt Foreign Officials Act, the government could use the law to impose a visa ban on these Saudis and their families, freeze any assets they have in Canada and prohibit Canadian businesses or individuals from having any dealings with them, said Cotler.
Additionally, the RWCHR is calling for an independent, international inquiry into how Khashoggi died, to ensure that all those implicated are brought to justice, possibly before an international tribunal created specifically for that purpose.
Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist, was killed after he entered the Saudi Arabian Consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2.
Cotler said he believes Saudi Arabia was “emboldened” after other democracies failed to stand with Canada, when Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland tweeted in August that she was, “Very alarmed to learn that Samar Badawi, Raif Badawi’s sister, has been imprisoned in Saudi Arabia. Canada stands together with the Badawi family in this difficult time, and we continue to strongly call for the release of both Raif and Samar Badawi.”
The siblings are among more than a dozen people imprisoned around the world that the RWCHR considers political prisoners and on whose behalf it publicly advocates.
Blogger Raif Badawi was jailed in 2012. He had been an outspoken advocate for increased freedoms in Saudi Arabia. His wife, Ensaf Haidar, and their three children live in Sherbrooke, Que.
Samar Badawi, a human rights activist with a focus on women’s rights, was arrested this summer. According to the RWCHR’s information, she is being detained “incommunicado without charges or access to family or a lawyer.”
Freeland’s relatively innocuous social media posting was met with outrage by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which severed diplomatic relations with Canada, suspended trade and cancelled scholarships for thousands of Saudi students in Canadian universities.
Even among its Western allies, Canada was criticized for meddling in Saudi Arabia’s internal affairs.
“It was an over-the-top reaction,” Cotler said of the Saudis, “but none of the democracies came to the defence of Canada, which I think emboldened the Saudis because the crown prince felt he could act with impunity, even more than after Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia (in May 2017, his first official trip as president). I draw a direct line to Khashoggi’s murder.”
Cotler praised Freeland for doing a “superb job.”
At the same time, he cautioned against wholly trusting Turkey’s version of events, because it has a woeful record of repressing freedom of the press. “That country has imprisoned more journalists than any other in the world. It should not be given a free pass,” Cotler said.
Cotler said a RWCHR board member, who he preferred not to name, met bin Salman in Washington last March and presented him with a legal brief seeking clemency for Raif Badawi “based on Saudi law and Shariah (Muslim religious law).
“The crown prince asked questions on how he could release him and not others, noting that Badawi’s father objects and has even called for him to be executed.”
The RWCHR – an independent, non-profit organization that Cotler founded after he left politics in 2015 – has now drawn up a revised clemency appeal that includes both Badawis. Cotler said he hopes it can be presented directly to the crown prince.
The brief concludes that granting clemency to them “is not only consistent with the principles of Shariah and Saudi law, but is mandated by them. The release of Raif and Samar Badawi will resonate positively within Saudi Arabia and across the world, thus protecting and promoting maslaha (community welfare).”
Cotler acknowledges the difficulty in respectfully appealing to a regime for the release of people believed to be unjustly imprisoned and, at the same time, calling for sanctions against those associated with that regime.
He also recognizes that Saudi Arabia is regarded by Israel as a strategic partner in containing Iran’s aggression in the region. Cotler has long lobbied for a tougher international response to Iran.
But Cotler thinks the CIA report that concludes, in his words, that there is “strong reason to believe the crown prince may well have ordered (the killing of Khashoggi) has to be taken seriously.…
“Saudi Arabia itself says those involved must be brought to account. We say there cannot be a compromise when it comes to pursuing international justice.”