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Saudi court sentences five to death over Khashoggi killing

December 23, 2019

The UN, along with a number of states, have questioned whether the investigation was thorough enough. Three others received lengthy prison sentences, in addition to those given the death penalty.

Jamal Khashoggi
Image: imago/IP3press/A. Morissard

Saudi Arabia's chief prosecutor said on Monday that five people received death sentences for their role in the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist, in the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul in October 2018.

Three others were handed lengthy sentences amounting to 24 years in jail, reported Saudi Arabia's state run Al-Ekhbariya TV channel, and two other top officials escaped sentencing.

"The court issued death sentences on five men who directly took part in the killing," Shalaan al-Shalaan, Saudi deputy public prosecutor and spokesman, said in a statement after the trial that lasted for nine sessions and was held in near total secrecy.

Agnes Callamard, UN Special Rapporteur for extrajudicial executions, told DW she has identified many shortcomings with the trial.

"The chain of command was not investigated, and nobody above the hit men has been charged and has been prosecuted," she said on Monday.

She also said the trial "did not deliver justice" and it was "held behind closed doors, even though there was no reason under international law for holding such a trial behind closed doors". 

There was no breakdown of how the total amount of jail time was divided and the identity of those receiving sentences will be kept a secret. All of those charged will have the opportunity to appeal their sentences.

Those receiving jail terms were convicted "for their role in covering up this crime and violating the law," said Shalaan. Those charged were found not to have premeditated the murder.

Read more: German arms export freeze on Saudi Arabia extended

Top officials avoid sentencing

A former top adviser to Saudi Arabia's crown prince, Saud al-Qahtani, was released but not charged, said the prosecutor. His release came despite the US sanctioning the adviser and 17 others for their roles in the operation.

Despite condemning the killing, President Donald Trump has stood by the 34-year-old crown prince.

Meanwhile, the US State Department welcomed the death sentences issued to the five alleged perpetrators. "Today's verdicts were an important step in holding those responsible for this terrible crime accountable," an official told reporters after the ruling.

Another top official, Mohammed al-Otaibi, was also found not guilty. The Saudi consul-general in Istanbul at the time was released from prison after the verdict was announced.

The trial was held in top secret, with only a handful of diplomats — including those from Turkey — allowed to attend along with members of Khashoggi's family. During the investigation into the murder, 21 people were arrested and a further 10 were questioned without arrest.

Callamard said she believes there is little to no chance that those suspected of ordering the killing, including Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, will be tried. 

Saudi Arabia denies responsibility

The Saudi Arabian government drew international criticism at the time of the murder as it involved several agents who worked directly for Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Many believe the Saudi Arabian government was directly involved the killing of the journalist.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan described the verdict as "scandalous," coming as it did "after months of secret hearings."

However, the crown prince and the kingdom have denied any direct connection to the brutal killing.

After the murder, the Saudi Arabian government told the UN that it would ensure it would bring the perpetrators to justice.


Following Monday's verdict, the Secretary General of the UN Antonio Guterres "continues to stress the need for an independent and impartial investigation into the murder to ensure full examination of and accountability for human rights violations committed in the case," according to Stephane Dujarric, spokesman for the UN chief.

Guterres "also reiterates the UN's commitment to ensuring freedom of expression and protection of journalists as well as our long-standing opposition to the death penalty," Dujarric added.

Despite the outcome of Monday's trial, many critics of Saudi Arabia remain in prison and face trials for voicing their dissent in the Gulf kingdom.

Khashoggi's fiancee speaks to DW

jsi,kmm,ed/mm (dpa, Reuters, AP)

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