Saudi Arabia’s public prosecutor Shalaan al-Shalaan has announced that five people who directly took part in the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi have been sentenced to death.
Announcing the ruling in a televised press conference on Monday, al Shalaan said three out of the 11 suspects were handed jail terms totaling 24 years.
However, the Riyadh criminal court dismissed charges against three high-profile Saudi officials, Saud al-Qahtani, a former royal adviser, Ahmed al-Assiri, a former deputy intelligence chief, and Mohammed al-Otaibi, a former consul general in Istanbul.
Except for the three, the names of the defendants were not released by the Saudi prosecutor.
Both al-Qahtani and al-Assiri, who were known to be part of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s inner circle, were ousted from their posts following Khashoggi’s killing in October 2018.
The royal insider-turned-critic Khashoggi was last seen while entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2, 2018. He was reportedly there to collect papers necessary for his planned wedding to his Turkish fiancée Hatice Cengiz.
The Washington Post columnist was killed and allegedly dismembered in the consulate building. The whereabouts of his dismembered body have remained a mystery.
In June, a United Nations (UN) special rapporteur on summary execution, Agnes Callamard said in a 100-page report that there was credible evidence showing the involvement of Salman and other senior Saudi officials in the journalist’s gruesome killing.
After a six-month investigation, the report concluded that the killing was a “deliberate, premeditated execution.”
As in the case of the killing at the time, the court ruling has again sparked criticism by many circles against the Saudi regime.
“Under international human rights law, the killing of Khashoggi was an extrajudicial execution for which the state of Saudi Arabia is responsible. The bottom line; the hit-men are guilty, sentenced to death. The masterminds not only walk free. They have barely been touched by the investigation and the trial. That is the antithesis of justice. It is a mockery,” said the UN’s Callamard on Twitter.
Amnesty International, a London-based non-governmental organization focusing on human rights, defined the court decision as a “whitewash.”
“Given the lack of transparency from the Saudi authorities, and in the absence of an independent judiciary, only an international, independent, and impartial investigation can serve justice for Jamal Khashoggi,” said Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty’s Middle East research director.
Human Rights Watch spokesman Ahmed Benchemsi said the trial was “all but satisfactory.”
“Saudi prosecutors did not even attempt to investigate the upper levels of this crime, and whether they played a role in ordering the killing, including Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman,” Benchemsi added.
Two conflicting comments on the verdict came from Khashoggi’s loved ones, the slain journalist’s son Salah Khashoggi and his fiancée Cengiz.
“Today, we have been granted justice as the children of the deceased, God willing, Jamal Khashoggi. We affirm our confidence in the Saudi judiciary at all levels, that it has been fair to us and that justice has been achieved,” Salah said on his Twitter account.
However, Cengiz found the verdict “unacceptable.” She added that she would never forget the journalist nor his murderers or those who are trying to cover up his murder.
Previously in a CNN report, an unnamed source claimed that a settlement had been reached between the journalist’s family and the Saudi regime in return for millions of dollars in cash and assets as compensation for the killing, an allegation which was denied by the son at the time.
The result of the case was far from meeting the expectations to shed light on the murder with all its dimensions and deliver justice; the Turkish foreign ministry commented in a statement.
Fahrettin Altun, the press aide of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, tweeted that those behind the “scandalous” murder had remained untouchable.
“Those who dispatched a death squad to Istanbul on a private jet… and sought to sweep this murder under the rug have been granted immunity,” said Altun.
The murder caused friction between Saudi Arabia and Turkey over Ankara’s efforts to pursue an international inquiry into the killing.
The kingdom first repeatedly denied its involvement in the incident, acknowledging eventually that its officials, but not the crown prince, were responsible for the gruesome murder.
The Saudi officials were trying to return Khashoggi to Riyadh, but the operation went wrong, the Saudis argued.
Salman’s critic was living in a self-imposed exile in the United States (US) where he had received a resident permit.
Intelligence services of both Turkey and the US believe that Khashoggi became a victim of a premeditated murder, which was ordered by Salman.