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Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman should receive immunity over a lawsuit filed against him over the murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi, according to the US government, a move condemned by human rights activists and the late reporter’s fiancée, the Middle East Eye reported.

Khashoggi was murdered and dismembered at the Saudi consulate in Turkey in 2018 in an operation that both Turkish and US intelligence groups have said was sanctioned by the crown prince.

Bin Salman – known as MBS – is facing a lawsuit in a US court over his role in Khashoggi’s murder. The plaintiffs are Khashoggi’s US-based advocacy group, Democracy for the Arab World Now (Dawn), and his fiancée, Hatice Cengiz.

But in a court filing this week, White House representatives said the crown prince’s recently appointed role as prime minister was grounds for immunity. They explained that this is “a legal determination made by the State Department under longstanding and well-established principles of customary international law.”

“It has nothing to do with the merits of the case,” they added.

MBS, who for years has been Saudi Arabia’s de-facto ruler, was officially elevated to prime minister – a position that is traditionally held by the king, who is both head of state and government. Critics noted that the move was an attempt by the crown prince to protect himself from the lawsuit.

Cengiz and Dawn criticized the Biden administration for the move, saying that it “has single-handedly assured MBS can escape accountability.”

The decision contradicts previous pledges by US President Joe Biden to hold the crown prince accountable. Meanwhile, MBS denied that he ordered Khashoggi’s murder but accepted “responsibility” because it “happened under my watch,” Axios noted.

A US judge will determine whether to grant the prince immunity because the White House’s suggestion is non-binding.

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