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 in a verdict that sparked international condemnation.
Khashoggi, a Washington Post contributor, was brutally murdered in October last year in Saudi Arabia’s Istanbul consulate, tipping it into one of its worst diplomatic crises and tarnishing the reputation of de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Riyadh has claimed the murder was a “rogue” operation, but both the CIA and a United Nations special envoy have directly linked Prince Mohammed to the killing.
Out of 11 individuals indicted in the case – most of whom remain unnamed – five were sentenced to death, three face jail terms totaling 24 years and the others were acquitted, the public prosecutor said.
The verdict, which was lambasted by Turkey and rights groups as a travesty of justice, underscores Saudi efforts to draw a line under the crisis as it seeks to reboot its international image ahead of next year’s G20 summit in Riyadh.
Saudi’s official investigation determined that the killing was not premeditated at the start of this mission but rather that it occurred in the heat of the moment, though rights groups have dismissed the investigation as a sham.
After being murder Khashoggi was dismembered with a bone saw by a 15-man Saudi squad who removed his body in pieces. His remains have never been found.
Saudi prosecutors had said deputy intelligence chief Ahmed al-Assiri oversaw Khashoggi’s killing and the U.S. Treasury had claimed the royal court’s media czar Saud al-Qahtani was “part of the planning and execution” of the operation that led to the murder.
Qahtani was investigated but not indicted “due to insufficient evidence” and Assiri was charged, but eventually acquitted on the same grounds, Shalaan added.
Both aides were part of Prince Mohammed’s tight-knit inner circle and were formally sacked over the killing, but only Assiri appeared in the court hearings, according to Western sources.
Agnes Callamard, the U.N. special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, condemned the verdict as a “mockery.”
“Bottom line: the hit-men are guilty, sentenced to death,” she said on Twitter.
“The masterminds not only walk free. They have barely been touched by the investigation and the trial.”
Turkey also blasted the “scandalous” verdict, saying those who dispatched the killers had been granted “impunity.”
The Washington Post’s publisher Fred Ryan denounced the “sham trial,” adding that “those ultimately responsible” in the Saudi leadership had escaped responsibility.
“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, told AFP.
“There is a strong belief among much of the international community that the senior Saudi establishment was behind the killing and this verdict does not inspire confidence that accountability has been achieved.”
Despite the CIA’s assessment, the administration of U.S. Donald Trump has downplayed the murder and has continued a close relationship with the Kingdom.
A U.S. State Department official welcomed the verdicts as “an important step in holding those responsible for this terrible crime accountable.”