Senior Judge John D. Bates has approved a request made by the Biden administration for a 60-day extension before it formally weighed in on whether Mohammed bin Salman, the Saudi crown prince, ought to be granted sovereign immunity in a case involving the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.
The judge in the case granted the US government its request and gave it until 3 October to submit a statement of interest.
The request comes just days after US president Joe Biden returned from a controversial trip to Saudi Arabia, in which he met with Prince Mohammed and claimed to have raised Khashoggi’s murder in a private conversation with the crown prince.
The Department of Justice said in a filing before a US district court that it had initiated a “decision-making process” about whether it would file a statement of interest in the case, but that it would not be able to comply with the court’s requested deadline of 1 August.
However, rights groups expressed deep concern over the move, saying that it would give the Saudi regime a licence to commit further human rights violations and abuses against political opponents and activists.
Attempts to hold Saudi Arabia accountable for the murder have so far have failed. A trial held against unnamed defendants in Saudi Arabia was widely condemned as a sham, and Turkey recently ended its own trial in the murder.
The only remaining avenue for MBS to face some legal consequences is in the US, where Khashoggi’s fiancé, Hatice Cengiz, has filed a civil lawsuit against the crown prince for ordering the killing.
However, MBS is likely to enjoy a legal immunity over Khashoggi’s killing following the White House’s request to postpone a decision on his immunity.
To give legal immunity would give MBS a green light to kill and to commit more crimes and violations against activists, opponents.