Top Saudi official issued death threat against UN investigator

Senior Saudi twice threatened to have Agnes Callamard ‘taken care of’ in meeting with UN colleagues in January 2020, the Guardian reports.

Agnes Callamard, UN special rapporteur, says the threats were made at a high-level meeting in Geneva [File: Francois Lenoir/Reuters]

A senior official issued a death threat against UN investigator Agnes Callamard following her inquiry into the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, the Guardian reported on Tuesday.

In an interview with the British newspaper, the outgoing special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary and arbitrary killings said a UN colleague alerted her in January 2020 that an unnamed Saudi official twice threatened in a meeting with other senior UN officials in Geneva to have Callamard “taken care of”.

She said the comments were understood as a “death threat” by her colleagues.

Callamard, a French national, will be joining the human rights watchdog Amnesty International as secretary-general this month, according to the news report.

She was the first official to investigate the murder of Washington Post columnist Khashoggi, who was killed by Saudi agents at the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul in October 2018, and publish a detailed report.

Khashoggi was a former royal insider who often wrote critically of the Saudi government.

In the 100-page report published in June 2019, Callamard said Khashoggi’s death “constituted an extrajudicial killing for which the State of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is responsible”.

The report also said Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) should be investigated over the murder.

Last month, an unclassified US intelligence report also concluded MBS approved and likely ordered the killing of Khashoggi. The Saudi government rejected “the negative, false and unacceptable assessment in the report”.

Saudi Arabia has said Khashoggi was killed in a “rogue operation” by agents and Prince Mohammed has denied ordering it.

‘Take care of her’

Callamard told the Guardian the threats against her were made at a “high-level” meeting between Geneva-based Saudi diplomats, visiting Saudi officials, and UN officials in Switzerland.

She was told the Saudis criticised her work on the Khashoggi probe, voicing anger about her investigation and conclusions, the Guardian reported.

The Saudi officials also claimed she received money from Qatar, an allegation frequently used against critics of the Saudi government.

Callamard said one of the visiting senior Saudi officials is then alleged to have said he received phone calls from individuals who were prepared to “take care of her”, the newspaper said.

When UN officials voiced alarm, other Saudis present tried to reassure them the comment should not be taken seriously.

The Saudi group then left the room but the visiting senior Saudi official stayed behind, and repeated the threat to the remaining UN officials in the room, Callamard was told.

The Saudi official said he knew people who offered to “take care of the issue if you don’t”.

“It was reported to me at the time and it was one occasion where the United Nations was actually very strong on that issue. People that were present, and also subsequently, made it clear to the Saudi delegation that this was absolutely inappropriate and that there was an expectation that this should not go further,” Callamard told the Guardian.

The Saudi government did not respond to the news report.

“You know, those threats don’t work on me. Well, I don’t want to call for more threats. But I have to do what I have to do. It didn’t stop me from acting in a way which I think is the right thing to do,” Callamard was quoted as saying.

Al Jazeera contacted Callamard for a comment but did not immediately receive a response on Tuesday.

Khashoggi presser
Demonstrators demand justice for Jamal Khashoggi outside the White House in Washington, DC [File: Ola Salem/Al Jazeera]
Source: Al Jazeera