Saudi official denies death threat made to UN investigator

By: AFP      Published: 08:30 PM, 25 Mar, 2021
Saudi official denies death threat made to UN investigator

A Saudi official on Thursday denied he threatened UN investigator Agnes Callamard following her probe into journalist Jamal Khashoggi's 2018 murder, after the United Nations confirmed she was issued a death threat.

At a meeting with UN officials in Geneva in January 2020, a senior Saudi official threatened twice to have Callamard "taken care of" if she was not restrained by the United Nations, the Guardian newspaper reported this week.

Without naming the Saudi official, Callamard -- the UN's special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary and arbitrary executions -- told the British newspaper that the comment was perceived by her Geneva-based colleagues as a "death threat".

Awwad Alawwad, the head of Saudi Arabia's Human Rights Commission, on Thursday said Callamard and UN officials believed he had made the threat.

"I reject this suggestion in the strongest terms," Alawwad, who is the kingdom’s former media minister, wrote on Twitter.

"While I cannot recall the exact conversations, I never would have desired or threatened any harm upon a UN-appointed individual, or anyone for that matter.

"I am disheartened that anything I have said could be interpreted as a threat."

There was no immediate comment from Callamard.

Rupert Colville, a spokesman for the UN Human Rights Office in Geneva, confirmed that "the details in the Guardian story about the threat aimed at Agnes Callamard are accurate".

The UN body had informed Callamard about the threat, he added.

Khashoggi, a Saudi insider-turned-critic who wrote for The Washington Post, was killed and dismembered inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

The gruesome murder by Saudi agents tarnished the reputation of de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and plunged the kingdom into its biggest diplomatic crisis in years.

Callamard's report, published in June 2019, concluded that there was "credible evidence" that top Saudi officials, including Prince Mohammed, were liable for the killing.

Late last month, Washington released a long-delayed intelligence report that accused Prince Mohammed of approving Khashoggi's murder. The report drew a rebuke from Riyadh, which insists he was killed in a "rogue operation" by a Saudi hit squad.

But Washington stopped short of sanctioning the crown prince. 

Callamard called US inaction against Prince Mohammed "extremely worrisome".

"It is extremely, in my view, problematic if not dangerous to acknowledge someone's culpability and then to tell that someone that we won't do anything," Callamard said.

Earlier this month, Reporters Without Borders said it had asked a German court to investigate "crimes against humanity" by Prince Mohammed over the killing.

The criminal suit, which seeks an inquiry by prosecutors under Germany's international jurisdiction laws, alleges systematic persecution of Khashoggi and other Saudi journalists.