Saudi court sentences eight to prison but commutes death sentences in killing of Jamal Khashoggi

The Riyadh Criminal Court announced prison sentences for eight defendants in the slaying of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, state media reported Monday, in a trial criticised by international human rights groups. 

File photo taken in 2014 of Jamal Khashoggi, who was killed in 2018 inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul
File photo taken in 2014 of Jamal Khashoggi, who was killed in 2018 inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul AFP/Archives

Saudi state TV revealed few details about the final verdicts issued against the Saudi nationals, whose names were not made public. The verdict comes after Khashoggi's sons said in May that they had "pardoned" the killers, sparing five of the convicted individuals from execution.

The court ordered a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison for five of the accused. Another received a 10-year sentence and two others were ordered to serve seven years in prison. 

The trial was widely criticised by rights groups and an independent UN investigator, who noted that no senior officials nor anyone suspected of ordering the killing was found guilty. The independence of the court was also brought into question.

Prior to his killing, Khashoggi had written critically of Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in columns for the Washington Post. He was living in exile in the US for about a year as Prince Mohammed oversaw a crackdown in Saudi Arabia on human rights activists, writers and critics of the kingdom’s devastating war in Yemen.

Khashoggi was killed in late 2018 inside the Saudi consulate in Turkey. 

Khashoggi’s fiancée calls verdict ‘farce’

Responding to the verdict, the UN’s special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Agnès Callamard, said the trial lacked “legal or moral legitimacy”.

Callamard denounced the fact that "the high-level officials who organised and embraced the execution ... have walked free from the start" and that Prince Mohammed "has remained well protected against any kind of meaningful scrutiny in his country".

Khashoggi’s Turkish fiancée Hatice Cengiz also dismissed the proceedings as a "farce".

In a Twitter post in Turkish, Cengiz  said the ruling "makes a complete mockery of justice ... The international community will not accept this farce".

"The Saudi authorities are closing the case without the world knowing the truth of who is responsible for Jamal's murder," Cengiz wrote.

"Who planned it, who ordered it, where is the body? These are the most important questions that remain totally unanswered."

Turkey on Monday said the verdict fell short of expectations and called on the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) to cooperate with Turkey’s investigation into Khashoggi’s murder. “"We still don't know what happened to Khashoggi's body, who wanted him dead or if there were local collaborators --  which casts doubt on the credibility of the legal proceedings in KSA," Turkish presidential spokesman Fahrettin Altun said on Twitter.

>> Read also: Jamal Khashoggi's fiancée on his murder: 'We need a neutral and independent trial'

'Full responsibility' but no knowledge

In October 2017, a team of 15 Saudi agents was dispatched to Turkey to meet Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul for what he thought was an appointment to pick up documents needed to wed Cengiz. The group allegedly included a forensic doctor, intelligence and security officers, and individuals who worked for the crown prince’s office.

Turkish officials allege that Khashoggi was killed and then dismembered with a bone saw. His body has not been found. Turkey apparently had the Saudi consulate bugged and has shared audio of the killing with the CIA, among others.

The grisly killing, which took place as Cengiz waited for him outside the building, drew international condemnation.

The Saudi crown prince, who has the support of his father King Salman, denies any involvement. US intelligence agencies, however, say an operation like that could not have happened without his knowledge and the US Senate has also accused the crown prince of being behind the murder.

In an interview on US network CBS “60 Minutes", Prince Mohammed said he took “full responsibility as a leader in Saudi Arabia”. But he insisted that he had no knowledge of the operation, saying he cannot keep close track of the country’s millions of employees.

(FRANCE 24 with AP, AFP and REUTERS)

Daily newsletterReceive essential international news every morning

Take international news everywhere with you! Download the France 24 app