American intelligence authorities tipped off their counterparts in the United Kingdom to a plan by Saudi Arabia to spy on Hatice Cengiz, the Turkish fiancée of the slain Saudi dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi, in the UK last year.
The Guardian reported that the US believed Saudi Arabia had the “ambition and intention” to monitor Cengiz, who has been an outspoken advocate for justice for Khashoggi, in London last May, despite a global outcry over his brutal murder in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
According to the report, it is not clear if the intended surveillance of Cengiz was electronic or physical, or if it was successful.
The report said the revelation would highlight the concerns of human rights campaigners who have long argued the Saudis are using surveillance to monitor and intimidate opponents and the critics of Saudi Arabia.
‘Unlawful behavior continues’
“Saudi Arabia is trying to put a lid on the whole [Khashoggi] thing, so it is understandable that they would try to make sure that Hatice’s voice and advocacy is limited,” Hala Aldosari, a Saudi activist and fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), said. “All sorts of unlawful behavior continues, nothing has changed.”
Khashoggi, a former advocate of the Saudi royal court who later became a critic of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, was killed after he entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2, 2018 to obtain some documents for his marriage to Cengiz, and his body was dismembered by a Saudi hit squad.
The Saudi government initially claimed Khashoggi left the consulate on that day, but Riyadh later said that he had been killed by a “rogue” group.
The Washington Post reported in November 2018 that the CIA had concluded that Saudi Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman had ordered the killing. Furthermore, an investigative team led by the United Nations also said it believed bin Salman was the prime suspect in the state-sponsored murder.
Earlier, Washington Post columnist David Ignatius wrote that there were “reports” that Cengiz and one of Khashoggi’s sons had been “under Saudi surveillance in London last summer.”
According to The Guardian, the revelation about Cengiz suggests that Riyadh is reinforcing what a former official in the administration of Barack Obama called a “state policy” to monitor dissidents and critics.
“They use a variety of tools as a matter of course. It is state policy,” Andrew Miller, a Middle East expert who served in the Obama administration, said.
“The second point is that obviously the fallout from the Khashoggi murder has not fundamentally changed the Saudi state’s posture. Fortunately no one else has been kidnapped and killed but they are still pursuing information about their opponents,” he said.
The latest developments will spark further criticism of Saudi Arabia as independent United Nations rights experts earlier this week called for an investigation into the involvement of bin Salman in the hacking of the phone of Jeff Bezos, the owner of The Washington Post, for which Khashoggi was a columnist.
Last year, Norwegian police temporarily moved Iyad el-Baghdadi, a Palestinian human rights campaigner and a vocal critic of bin Salman, to a secure place after being alerted by the CIA about a possible threat against him from Riyadh.