A US judge has ordered the partial disclosure of murder files related to dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, in a ruling hailed by rights activists as a victory against "the shameful cover-up" of the killing by the US administration.
Federal Judge Paul Engelmayer ordered on Tuesday that the US government has a two-week ultimatum to produce a "Vaughn index" that describes the documents it is withholding about the 2018 murder of Khashoggi in the Saudi Consulate in the Turkish city of Istanbul, and provides legal justification for their non-disclosure.
The New York judge also ordered US intelligence agencies to acknowledge they possess a tape recording of the killing of the Virginia-based journalist.
The judge instructed the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) to explain their reason behind withholding the tape and a CIA report on the gruesome murder.
Engelmayer cited in his ruling the US President Donald Trump's comments in late 2018 when American head of state said, "We have the tape."
The ruling came after the New York-based Open Society Justice Initiative filed a lawsuit under the US Freedom of Information act seeking access to intelligence agency records related to the assassination.
The CIA and ODNI rejected the request and failed to even confirm the existence of the documents, citing national security reasons.
The Open Society Justice Initiative described the Tuesday order as a "crucial victory in addressing the Trump administration's shameful cover-up" of the murder.
"The court's judgement is a vital step towards ending impunity for the murder," said Amrit Singh, the foundation's lead lawyer in the case.
Khashoggi, a former advocate of the Saudi royal court who had become a critic of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, was killed and his body dismembered by a Saudi hit squad in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2, 2018, where he had gone to obtain documents for his impending wedding.
The Washington Post, for which Khashoggi was a columnist, reported in November that year that the CIA had concluded that bin Salman personally ordered his killing.
Agnes Callamard, the United Nations special rapporteur for extrajudicial summary or arbitrary executions, has said there was credible evidence that the crown prince and other ranking Saudi officials were individually liable. She has called for an independent and impartial international inquiry into the foul play.
In September, a court in Saudi Arabia handed 20-year prison sentences to five people, while sentencing another three to seven to 10 years in jail.
The ruling was rejected by a United Nations (UN) expert as a “parody of justice.”
Riyadh has spurned all the allegations linking the killing to bin Salman and instead claimed that the murder was committed by a “rogue” group.
Khashoggi’s killing damaged the ties between Ankara and Riyadh, and tarnished the prince’s international image.
Turkey has pressed the kingdom for information on Khashoggi’s dismembered body.
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