Jamal Khashoggi widow urges Biden to secure release of Saudi political prisoners during White House visit

Hanan El-Atr met with top officials on the eve of President Biden’s visit

Andrew Buncombe
Tuesday 12 July 2022 19:27 BST
Hanan El-Atr and Jamal Khashoggi married four months before his murder
Hanan El-Atr and Jamal Khashoggi married four months before his murder (Hanan El-Atr)

The widow of murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi has urged Joe Biden to try and secure the release of Saudi Arabia’s poltical prisoners when he visits the kingdom.

Ahead of a controverisal trip to the Middle East that will see Mr Biden head to Saudi Arabia and meet with its crown prince Mohammed Bin Salman (MBS), Hanan El-Atr met top officials at the White House where she pressed her late husband’s cause.

The invitation followed the publication of an open letter, in which she said if the US president was to go ahead with the trip, he should use it to press the issues that were so important to her late husband.

“As his only wife upon his death, it is important to me that Jamal’s legacy of freedom and tolerance outlive his death,” she wrote.

On Tuesday, Ms El-Atr and her lawyer, Randa Fahmy, were invited to the White House to meet with senior officials.

“I am here today, before President Biden departs to Saudi Arabia, to thank him and express what Jamal wanted most in this world: the release of all political prisoners being held in Saudi Arabia, including Jamal’s close friend, Essam Al-Zamil,” she said in a statement.

“I do not want those political prisoners to suffer the same fate as Jamal.”

CCTV shows Jamal Khashoggi 'body-double' in Istanbul

Ms Fahmy said it was important for Ms El-Atr, “to be able to express exactly what Jamal would have wanted if he were alive today, particularly right before President Biden’s departure to Saudi Arabia”.

She added: “This meeting is just the beginning of her long road to closure amid her grief. Part of that closure is also to hold all parties accountable for the death of her husband.”

Ms El-Atr’s husband, 57, a celebrated journalist and most recently a columnist for the Washington Post, was murdered in October 2018 after entering the Saudi consulate, apparently in order to obtain a visa.

(It emerged he had been planning to visit Saudi Arabia and he had gone to the consulate that day with Hatice Cengiz, a Turkish student to whom he had apparently proposed marriage.)

It was later learned Khashoggi had been murdered by a 12-person-strong hit team, and his body dismembered by a bone saw. It was alleged he had been murdered on the orders of the highest level of the Saudi state, after falling out with the authorities.

Saudi Arabia has denied the accusations and claimed he had been killed by “rogue” officials.

A report published in 2019 by Agnes Callamard, the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions, said Saudi Arabia was responsible for “premeditated execution”.

In February 2021, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence said MBS had approved the operation to capture and kill Khashoggi.

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