In Depth

Jamal Khashoggi: Saudi Arabia sentences five to death for murder

Behind-closed-doors trial did not meet ‘required international standards’

A court in Saudi Arabia has sentenced five people to death over the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in October 2018.

The Saudi national was killed inside the kingdom’s consulate in the Turkish city of Istanbul by a team of Saudi agents.

What happened to Khashoggi?

Khashoggi was an outspoken critic of the Saudi regime and of Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, who accepted “full responsibility” for the killing but denied having ordered it or having had prior knowledge of it.

Khashoggi visited the Istanbul consulate on 2 October last year to obtain papers he needed to marry his fiancée, Hatice Cengiz. Saudi agents were waiting for him, and he was reportedly sedated and suffocated, according to a UN report, says The Guardian

His body was reportedly dismembered with an electric saw and removed from the consulate in five suitcases. It has never been produced for burial.

The Saudi authorities said the murder was the result of a “rogue operation” and put 11 unnamed individuals on trial.

What happened at the trial?

Saudi Arabia announced in November last year that it would seek the death penalty for five of its agents accused of being behind the killing of Khashoggi.

The trial began in January, with nine sessions held before Monday’s sentencing. The media was banned from covering the trial, but representatives of the Turkish government, Saudi human rights groups and the UN Security Council were allowed to attend.

A total of 31 individuals were investigated over the killing, 21 of them were arrested and 11 stood trial, says the BBC.

The court decided it had enough evidence to sentence five people for Khashoggi’s death – but it did not incriminate two top officials close to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, reports Bloomberg.

Three of the 11 who stood trial were found not guilty, while a further three were given 24-year prison terms.

Saud al-Qahtani, formerly a top adviser to Prince Mohammad, was interrogated but no evidence was found against him, according to deputy attorney general Shalaan Shalaan. Ahmed al-Asiri, a senior intelligence official, was also found not guilty by the court. Both were removed from their positions after the Khashoggi killing.

Shalaan said the court had found no evidence that the murder was premeditated, directly contradicting the findings of Turkish and Western intelligence agencies.

Saudi agents were recorded discussing how to dismember Khashoggi’s body before he entered the consulate, referring to him as a “sacrificial lamb”.

Human Rights Watch said the trial did not meet the required international standards, and the Saudi authorities had “obstructed meaningful accountability”.

What happens next?

The public prosecutor will “study the verdict and look into filing an appeal”, according to a statement. The death sentences must be upheld by the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court.

And many questions remain over the role of the Crown Prince in the killing. Agnes Callamard, the UN Special Rapporteur on Extra-Judicial Executions, said the trial was “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,” she wrote on Twitter.

A report released by Callamard in June found that Khashoggi’s death was a “premeditated extrajudicial execution” by the Saudi state, and there was sufficient evidence for further investigations into the liability of high-level officials, including bin Salman.

Callamard dismissed the assertion that the killing was not premeditated as “utterly ridiculous”, pointing to the discussions on dismembering the body “hours before it actually occurred”.

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