DUBAI (Reuters) – A senior Saudi official denied on Thursday he had threatened to harm the human rights expert who led the U.N. investigation into the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, after the United Nations confirmed the expert’s account of the threat.
Agnes Callamard, the U.N. expert on summary killings, has said that a Saudi official threatened at a Jan. 2020 meeting in Geneva that she would be “taken care of” if she was not reined in following her investigation into the journalist’s murder.
She said the remark was interpreted by U.N. officials as a “death threat”. The United Nations confirmed her account on Wednesday, describing the remark as a “threat”.
Neither Callamard nor the United Nations has identified the Saudi official who made the remark. However, the head of Saudi Arabia’s human rights commission, Awwad Alawwad, identified himself as the official on Thursday, while denying he had intended any threat.
“It has come to my attention that Ms. Agnes Callamard … and some U.N. officials believe I somehow made a veiled threat against her more than a year ago,” Alawwad tweeted.
“While I cannot recall the exact conversations, I never would have desired or threatened any harm upon a U.N.-appointed individual, or anyone for that matter,” he said.
He described himself as an advocate for human rights, and said: “I am disheartened that anything I have said could be interpreted as a threat.”
A source familiar with the matter had earlier told Reuters Alawwad was the one who made the remark.
Callamard led a U.N. investigation into the October 2018 killing of U.S.-based journalist Khashoggi by Saudi agents at the kingdom’s Istanbul consulate. She issued a report in 2019 concluding there was “credible evidence” that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and senior Saudi officials were responsible.
Callamard’s allegation that she was threatened was first reported in the Guardian newspaper on Tuesday. On Wednesday, U.N. spokesman Rupert Colville said: “We confirm that the details in the Guardian story about the threat aimed at Agnes Callamard are accurate.”
The remark was made at a meeting between Saudi and U.N. officials in Geneva. Callamard was not present at the meeting but the U.N. human rights office informed her about the threat and alerted U.N. security and authorities, Colville added.
“A death threat. That was how it was understood,” Callamard told the Guardian. “People that were present, and also subsequently, made it clear to the Saudi delegation that this was absolutely inappropriate.”
She has called for sanctions against Prince Mohammed over the killing of Khashoggi. The prince denies any involvement but has said he bears ultimate responsibility as it happened under his watch.
U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration, which has taken a tougher stance on Saudi Arabia’s human rights record than that of his predecessor Donald Trump, last month released an intelligence report that said Prince Mohammed approved an operation to capture or kill Khashoggi. Saudi Arabia rejected the findings.
Callamard, whose replacement was announced on Wednesday, is taking up a new post as secretary general of Amnesty International.
(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva and Aziz El Yaakoubi in Dubai; Writing by Raya Jalabi and Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Matthew Lewis and Peter Graff)