U.S. senators trigger human rights probe over missing Saudi journalist

A demonstrator holds picture of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi during a protest in front of Saudi Arabia's consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, October 5, 2018. REUTERS/Osman Orsal

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Twenty-two U.S. senators on Wednesday forced a U.S. investigation of whether human rights sanctions should be imposed over the disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist last seen as he entered the Saudi consulate in Turkey on Oct. 2.

In a letter, the senators said they had triggered a provision of the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act requiring the president to determine whether a foreign person is responsible for a gross human rights violation.

“Our expectation is that in making your determination you will consider any relevant information, including with respect to the highest ranking officials in the Government of Saudi Arabia,” they said.

The Republican and Democratic leaders of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senators Bob Corker and Bob Menendez, and their counterparts on the Appropriations subcommittee that funds the State Department, Lindsey Graham and Patrick Leahy, triggered the Magnitsky action.

But the 18 others also signed the letter to send Trump a strong bipartisan message of support for a serious U.S. response to Khashoggi’s disappearance, Senate aides said.

The Global Magnitsky Act requires a report within 120 days of the letter with a decision on the imposition of sanctions on anyone deemed responsible for a serious rights violation such as torture, prolonged detention without trial or extrajudicial killing of someone exercising freedom of expression.

“The recent disappearance of Saudi journalist and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi suggests that he could be a victim of a gross violation of international recognised human rights,” the letter said.

The 2012 Magnitsky Act imposed visa bans and asset freezes on Russian officials linked to the 2009 death in prison of Sergei Magnitsky, a 37-year-old Russian whistleblower. It became the Global Magnitsky Act in 2016 when it was expanded to cover rights abusers in any country.

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