RIYADH (Dispatches) – Global media watchdog Reporters Without Borders said on Wednesday it had visited Saudi Arabia to seek freedom for 30 jailed journalists amid sustained Western criticism of Riyadh following the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
The group, known by its French acronym RSF, had not publicized its April visit, which it called unprecedented, in hopes that the authorities would pardon the detainees during the holy Muslim month of Ramadan, which ended weeks ago, it said at the start of a media freedom conference in London.
Secretary-General Christophe Deloire led the delegation, which met Saudi officials including the ministers of justice and media, the minister of state for foreign affairs, the public prosecutor and the head of the state-backed human rights commission.
The Saudi government communications office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the visit and the status of the detainees.
The kingdom has come under heightened international criticism over its human rights record after Khashoggi was murdered and dismembered by Saudi operatives inside its Istanbul consulate last October.
The CIA and some Western countries believe the killing was ordered by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. A UN expert last month said he and other senior officials should be investigated given credible evidence against them.
An independent UN rights expert, who conducted an investigation into the murder of Khashoggi last October, has criticized the United States for its inaction over the case.
"(It) has the jurisdiction or at least the interest to take action. Silence is not an option. Speaking up is required but not enough. We have to act,” UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions Agnes Callamard told a conference in London hosted by human rights groups on the killing of the Saudi-born dissident.
She stressed that Washington could act "either through an FBI investigation (or) a civil law investigation... (or) the declassification of CIA and other materials. All of those things I believe can be done and should be done.”
"The U.S. was not at the top of the cooperation chain. They did the minimum to keep them within the remit of what is expected from a Western government,” Callamard said.
The United Nations human rights expert added she was not granted any access to the CIA, the U.S. Department of Justice or other officials from US President Donald Trump’s administration.
Callamard further argued that the West risked a "democratic deficit” in not responding to widespread public disgust at the killing.
"That is dangerous... that democratic deficit must be tackled,” she commented.
Hatice Cengiz, a Turkish writer and Khashoggi's fiancée, also echoed her call for justice at the conference.
"We ask all European countries and especially the UK to take this report more seriously,” she said. "It's too dangerous to behave as if nothing has happened.”
In this file photo taken on October 5, 2018 a protester holds a picture of journalist Jamal Khashoggi during a demonstration in front of the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.