Saudi sentences five to death over Khashoggi murder
Five people were sentenced to death Monday over Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s murder, but two top aides to the powerful crown prince were exonerated as authorities said the killing was not premeditated.
Khashoggi, a Washington Post contributor, was murdered in October last year in what Riyadh called a “rogue” operation, tipping it into one of its worst diplomatic crises and tarnishing the reputation of de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
The verdict underscores an effort to draw a line under the crisis as the kingdom, widely condemned over its human rights record, seeks to reboot its international image ahead of next year’s G20 summit in Riyadh.
“The public prosecution’s investigation showed that the killing was not premeditated at the start of this mission” but rather that it occurred in the heat of the moment, Saudi deputy prosecutor Shalaan al-Shalaan told a press conference.
Khashoggi, a 59-year-old Saudi insider-turned-critic, was strangled and his body cut into pieces by a 15-man Saudi squad inside the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul, according to Turkish officials. His remains have not been found.
Of the 11 unnamed individuals indicted in the case, five were sentenced to death, three face jail terms totalling 24 years, and the others were acquitted, Shalaan said. The verdict can be appealed.
A UN expert said the trial represented “the antithesis of justice”.
“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,” Special Rapporteur Agnes Callamard wrote on Twitter.
Christophe Deloire, the secretary general of press freedom group Reporters Without Borders, said: “When Saudis sentence five to death for Khashoggi’s murder, we fear that it is a way to silence them for ever and to conceal the truth.”
A report released by Callamard concluded in June that Khashoggi’s death was an “extrajudicial execution” for which the Saudi state was responsible, and that there was credible evidence warranting further investigation that high-level officials, including Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, were individually liable.
Both the CIA and a UN special envoy have directly linked Prince Mohammed to the killing, a charge the kingdom denies.
“If the court ruling is meant to put the Khashoggi affair to rest, it is unlikely to succeed,” H.A. Hellyer, senior associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute said. -Agencies