Saudi Arabia’s public prosecutor announced Dec. 23 that five people have been sentenced to death and three sentenced to prison terms in connection with the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last year. The verdict revealed that charges had been dismissed for the remaining three of the 11 that had been on trial. The trial did not find that the killing was premeditated. Among those not indicted were two top Saudi officials, who were exonerated due to lack of evidence. Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist and columnist for the Washington Post, entered the consulate to obtain marriage documents in October 2018, only to be killed there, his body dismembered and later taken from the consulate. The remains have yet to be found.
Following Khashoggi’s death there was an international outcry, calling for an investigation into Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman. Khashoggi was an outspoken critic of Crown Prince Mohammad; the CIA later determined that he had ordered the murder.
The United Nations issued its own report in October 2019, squarely placing the blame on Saudi Arabia for the murder, calling it premeditated and criticizing both the Saudi and Turkish governments for interfering with the investigation.
Criticism still remains surrounding the exoneration of two top officials connected to the Crown Prince, Saud al-Qahtani and Ahmed al-Assiri. Both al-Qahtani and al-Assiri were dismissed from their positions; al-Assiri was tried and released and al-Qahtani was investigated but not charged.
The Trump administration responded to the murder in November 2018 by imposing sanctionsagainst 17 Saudi citizens suspected of being involved, including al-Qahtani, who was one of the Crown Prince’s media advisors.
These death sentences still must be confirmed by Saudi higher courts.
Adam Coogle, a researcher for Human Rights Watch, told the New York Times that the “opaque nature of the trial” and the complete exoneration of Saudi leadership called for further independent investigation. Coogle stated, “Saudi Arabia’s handling of the murder, from complete denial to hanging the murder on lower-level operatives in a trial that lacked transparency, demonstrates the need for an independent criminal inquiry.”
From Jurist, Dec. 23. Used with permission.
Note: The Committee to Protect Journalists condemned what it called a “sham trial” in the case, noting that the prosecutor’s office did not identify the convicted by name, and described the killing as “spontaneous.” Only those who actually carried out the killing appear to have been convicted, and none of the intellectual authors.