Seven human rights and press freedom groups are urging the United States, Britain and France to speak out publicly about the trial in Saudi Arabia of 11 people charged in the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi which their diplomats are attending. The groups said in letters to foreign ministers of the three countries obtained Friday that providing information and much-needed transparency "would enable some scrutiny of the fairness of the trial."
"In addition to reinforcing the fair trial rights of the accused persons," the groups said making information public would "guard against potential scapegoating of some individuals." They also said that "transparency around the trial can work to guarantee that the court proceedings do not cover up the alleged involvement of the Saudi leadership."
A global outcry was sparked by Khashoggi's grisly killing inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul in October by Saudi agents, in an operation directed by former top aides to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Last week, the independent U.N. human rights expert on extrajudicial executions, Agnes Callamard, who is leading a human rights investigation into Khashoggi's killing, denounced the shrouded trial and called on the kingdom to identify the defendants.
She also warned that the five permanent U.N. Security Council nations invited to attend some court hearings — the U.S., Britain, France, Russia and China — "risk being participants in a potential miscarriage of justice" and could be "complicit" if the trials turn out to involve violations of human rights law. The seven groups urged the U.S., Britain and France to press the Saudis to allow observers from the U.N. human rights office and international human rights and media organizations to attend the trial. They did not write to or make similar requests of the Russians and Chinese.
But they did say: "Concerned governments should take the necessary steps to ensure that they do not provide cover for what could be a sham trial." "Doing so would also run the risk of enabling authorities in Riyadh to find a set of individuals guilty, without due process, while whitewashing the possible involvement of the highest levels of the Saudi government," the rights and media groups said. The seven groups are Amnesty International, Article 19, Committee to Protect Journalists, Human Rights First, Human Rights Watch, PEN America and Reporters Without Borders.
(With inputs from agencies.)