- Jamal Khashoggi was murdered inside the country's consulate in Turkey.
- Three close defendants of Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman were acquitted.
- Prosecutor says crime was not premeditated.
A Saudi Arabian court sentenced five people to death on Monday, accused of participating in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the country’s consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, in October 2018. The execution generated strong international criticism against the Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman, who was accused by the UN of involvement in the murder.
Saudi Prosecutor General spokesman Shalaan al Shalaan told a news conference that Saoud al Qahtani, adviser to Prince Mohamed, the deputy director of the country’s secret service, Ahmed Asiri, and Consul Mohamed al Otaibi were released for lack of evidence linking them to the murder. The three were the main personalities sued in the case.
Three others were convicted of covering up the crime, but al Shalaan merely reported that the sum of the sentences of the three is 24 years in prison, without specifying how long each corresponds to or revealing their identities. All verdicts are at first instance and convicted may still appeal the trial.
The spokesman also stated that investigations showed that the crime was not premeditated and that there was no intention to kill Khashoggi, as the defendants and the victim were not “enemies.” Some diplomats and family members of the journalist were able to attend the hearings of the case, but the press did not have access to the trial.
Khashoggi, a columnist for The Washington Post, was openly critical of his country’s monarchy, and is highly suspected to have been murdered by Saudi agents at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, where he had gone to secure some documents for his marriage on October 2, 2018. According to an independent UN investigation, a team of 15 Saudi agents travelled to Turkey to pursue Khashoggi. In the group were individuals who worked directly with Salman. Investigators argued that the dissenting journalist’s murder was “planned and perpetrated by Saudi state officials.”
In an interview with CBS, Salman, as Saudi leader, took “full responsibility” for the crime, but denied having ordered the attack on Khashoggi. Although the United Nations and the United States Congress directly blamed Salman for the crime, the kingdom’s strongman was not prosecuted.
UN rapporteur for extrajudicial executions, Agnes Callamard, criticized the trial as a “mockery” of justice. “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,” she said. Amnesty International, a human rights NGO, said the verdict was a “cleansing” by ignoring Saudi officials involved and not clarifying the location of the journalist’s remains. Reporters Without Borders considered the sentence a way to silence witnesses. The trial did not respect “internationally recognized principles of justice,” said the secretary general of the organization, Christophe Deloire.