A court in Saudi Arabia on Monday sentenced five people to death over the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi last year.
Khashoggi, a prominent critic of the Saudi Palace, was killed inside the kingdom’s consulate in the Turkish city of Istanbul by a team of Saudi agents.
The Saudi authorities said it was the result of a “rogue operation” and put 11 unnamed individuals on trial.
The Riyadh Criminal Court sentenced five individuals to death for “committing and directly participating in the murder of the victim”, according to the public prosecution’s statement.
Three others were handed prison sentences totalling 24 years for “covering up this crime and violating the law”, while the remaining three were found not guilty.
The 59-year-old journalist, a US-based columnist for the Washington Post, was last seen entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, on October 2, 2018, to obtain papers he needed to marry his fiancée, Hatice Cengiz.
Khashoggi, however, never came out alive to meet Cengiz, and his body was mutilated and deposed off to a local Turkish collaborator, according to the Saudi account.
According to a statement by the Saudi public prosecutor, a total of 31 individuals were investigated over the killing and 21 of them were arrested. Eleven were eventually referred to trial at the Riyadh Criminal Court and the public prosecutor sought the death penalty for five of them.
Agnes Callamard, the United Nations Special Rapporteur, had in June claimed that the five people facing the death penalty were Fahad Shabib Albalawi; Turki Muserref Alshehri; Waleed Abdullah Alshehri; Maher Abdulaziz Mutreb, an intelligence officer; and Dr Salah Mohammed Tubaigy, a forensic doctor with the interior ministry.
However, Saud al-Qahtani, a senior aide to the Crown Prince, who was sacked and investigated over the killing, and Ahmad Asiri, a former Deputy Intelligence Chief, were not charged for the murder. they were both seen by the international community as the brains behind the killing of Khashoggi.
Also not convicted was the Crown Prince, who human right groups and advocates said “definitely” issued the instruction to his subordinates to kill the outspoken journalist.
The prince denied any involvement, but in October he said he took “full responsibility as a leader in Saudi Arabia, especially since it was committed by individuals working for the Saudi government”.
Shalaan Shalaan, Saudi Arabia’s deputy public prosecutor, at a press conference on Monday said the public prosecution’s investigations had shown that “there was no premeditation to kill at the beginning of the mission”.
“The investigation showed that the killing was not premeditated… The killing was in the spur of the moment, when the head of the negotiating team inspected the premises of the consulate and realised that it was impossible to move the victim to a safe place to resume negotiations.
“The head of the negotiating team and the perpetrators then discussed and agreed to kill the victim inside the consulate,” he said.
But Callamard, who authored a UN-backed report in June which stated that Saudi Arabia and the Crown Prince were responsible for the murder, said in a post on Twitter that the investigation and trial lacked credibility.
“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,” her tweet read.
Cengiz, Khashoggi’s fiancee, described the Saudi verdict as “not acceptable”.
Human Rights Watch said the trial, which took place behind closed doors, did not meet international standards and that the Saudi authorities had “obstructed meaningful accountability”.
The Turkish foreign ministry said the decision of the Saudi court was “far from meeting the expectations of both our country and the international community to shed light on the murder with all its dimensions and deliver justice”.
The public prosecution said it would decide whether to review the court’s rulings and decide whether to appeal. The death sentences must be upheld by the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court.