A court in Saudi Arabia sentenced eight people to prison for their roles in the 2018 orchestrated killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Saudi government-run Al Ekhbariya TV reported on Monday.The Riyadh Criminal Court’s final verdicts against the unnamed defendants — five received the maximum 20-year prison sentences, one was handed 10 years and two others got seven years — came after a trial without public access or news coverage that human rights experts and organizations sharply criticized. Foreign diplomats could attend, but were commanded to say nothing about it.
The court appeared to adhere to the notion that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was not involved in the killing, contrary to evidence from Turkish authorities and a United Nations special rapporteur, or investigator.
Death sentences against five of the convicted defendants were commuted because they received a "pardon" from Khashoggi's two sons, according to Saudi television. The Saudi justice system allows a victim’s family to pardon convicted killers. The Saudi court last year cleared two top aides to the Saudi crown prince that prosecutors had linked to Khashoggi's killing.
Agnès Callamard, the U.N. special rapporteur for extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions who investigated the case, had called on courts in Turkey, the United States and Europe — all of which have jurisdiction — to weigh in on the case.
She also had urged the U.S. Congress to push for U.S. President Donald Trump's administration to release secret findings on the crown prince’s role, and suggested creating a permanent U.N. body to investigate targeted killings of journalists. Trump has enabled the crown prince's denials by striving to legitimize him while protecting the U.S.-Saudi relationship.
Her team’s investigation into the Saudi journalist’s killing inside the Saudi consulate at Istanbul, Turkey on October 2, 2018, concluded that “credible evidence” existed to justify a criminal probe into the crown prince and other officials suspected of involvement in a “premeditated extrajudicial execution” that relied on using the operatives' official status and government resources.
'Totally unanswered' questions
Khashoggi, a Saudi citizen and outspoken critic of his government, had taken up U.S. residence and worked as a contributing columnist for The Washington Post. He showed up at the consulate several days before his murder to request a certificate that he needed to remarry, and was told to return later.
The Post has reported that Khashoggi’s two sons and two daughters received million-dollar houses in Saudi Arabia and monthly five-figure payments as compensation for the killing of their father.
In March 2019, 36 nations including the entire European Union condemned Saudi Arabia in the 47-nation U.N. Human Rights Council, an unprecedented move to demand cooperation with the inquiry by Callamard’s team. They also called on the Saudis to release 10 imprisoned women’s rights activists.
Khashoggi’s fiancée, Hatice Cengiz, who had waited in vain outside the consulate for his safe return, said after the verdicts became public on Monday that they represent "a complete mockery of justice" by the Saudi government.
"The Saudi authorities are closing the case without the world knowing the truth of who is responsible for Jamal's murder," she said in a statement. "Who planned it, who ordered it, where is his body? These are the most basic and important questions that remain totally unanswered. The international community will not accept this farce. I am more determined than ever to fight for justice for Jamal."