(NewsNation) — Hanan Elatr Khashoggi, wife of murdered Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi met with three White House officials Tuesday morning ahead of President Joe Biden’s planned trip to Saudi Arabia. This was the first time she had been invited to the White House, she told NewsNation in an interview after the meeting.
Elatr Khashoggi , who now is seeking asylum in the U.S., said she received the invitation from the White House Monday after she wrote a letter to Biden last month. The unnamed officials spent time “listening” to her input on Khashoggi’s “legacy” and her asks of Biden ahead of his widely-discussed trip to Saudi Arabia later this week, she said.
During the meeting, she said she hoped Biden would ask for the release of Saudi Arabia’s political prisoners during his meeting with Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman.
“I believe and am confident that President Biden can do a lot for Jamal Khashoggi but at least — the minimum — to ask (for) the immediate release of all opinion prisoners and not to ban them from traveling,” Elatr Khashoggi told NewsNation’s Kellie Meyer.
“That’s not a crime to say your opinion, advise your country and have some wishes about your country,” she said. “We deserve to have the freedom and democratic freedom to speak in the Middle East like any western (person) in the streets of the U.K, or the U.S. or Denmark.”
She added that she hoped that her stepson, Salah Khashoggi, “could be free to move and travel.”
“I don’t know where is Salah — where he is now. (Is) he banned from traveling? I follow him sometimes on Twitter and he sounds sad and being controlled. I would like Salah to have his freedom. I don’t know where is he. It’s one of the things I asked (for) today.”
Biden is preparing for the trip amid criticism of Saudi Arabia’s poor human rights record. He defended his decision in an opinion piece posted Saturday by the Washington Post. In it, Biden insisted that he had long supported reforms and sought to “reorient but not rupture” relations with a long-standing strategic partner.
The op-ed appeared in the Sunday opinion section of the Washington Post, the same paper that Khashoggi worked for before he was murdered by Saudi Arabian agents in 2018.
Biden contended criticism by saying he had responded with sanctions against the Saudi forces involved in the killing and issued scores of visa bans for anyone found harassing dissidents abroad. The president also noted that he released a U.S. intelligence report that asserted Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had approved of the operation that led to Khashoggi’s murder.
Biden is expected to meet with the crown prince during his trip.
Elatr Khashoggi hopes the president encourages an open-mindedness about free speech in Saudi Arabia, she said.
“If he starts his rule as the Crown Prince to fight corruption and to change things inside Saudi Arabia, I think the missing part here — and I’m talking on behalf of my husband — is to give the freedom of speech, at least, to the people,” she said.
She also wants Biden to bring up Khashoggi by name during the meeting.
“I feel they did not kill my husband,” Elatr Khashoggi said. “My husband killed them. They will live with a scar on their face (from) this crime, regardless of who (was) involved in this crime. The whole world will stand for my husband and Jamal deserves it. Jamal sacrificed.”
Prior to and following Khashoggi’s death, Elatr Khashoggi was targeted and told NewsNation Tuesday that she continues to live in fear. She said she’s had no control in her life since she got engaged to Khashoggi and was briefed by intelligence officials two weeks after the engagement.
“I don’t feel safe but I have faith in God and I just leave it in God’s hands,” she said, adding she continues to speak out despite her fear to help the other political prisoners who remain behind bars in the country.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.