In what’s being termed a “mockery” of justice by a U.N. investigator, five people have been sentenced to death over the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Another three received jail time, though it is uncertain the length of their sentences.
According to Reuters, another three people were found not guilty. The names of those involved in the trial conducted in Saudi Arabia have not yet been released. According to Saudi Deputy Public Prosecutor Shalaan al-Shalaan, “The investigation showed that the killing was not premeditated … The decision was taken at the spur of the moment.” These Saudi findings contrast those by an independent investigation conducted by the United Nations. The U.N. inquiry concluded that Khashoggi’s death was “a brutal and premeditated killing, planned and perpetrated” by the Saudi government.
The Khashoggi Saga
Khashoggi was last seen entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October of 2018. The purpose of his visit was to acquire the requisite documents for his upcoming marriage. But Khashoggi never emerged from the consulate and died what appears to be a gruesome death with his dismembered remains somehow removed from the Saudi diplomatic building. Khashoggi’s body parts have never been recovered.
The journalist, who was a U.S. resident at the time of his death, was a known critic of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who serves as the de facto leader of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Khashoggi’s death caused an international uproar. Whether Salman ordered the murder of Khashoggi or not remains a mystery, though the prince did take responsibility for the journalist’s demise, saying “it happened under my watch.”
In all, more than 30 people were investigated in connection with Khashoggi’s death. Even Turkish officials are skeptical that Saudi Arabia has gotten to the bottom of what happened to the correspondent. Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Hami Aksoy contends that many questions remain unanswered. “The fact that important issues like the location of the late Khashoggi’s body, the identification of the instigators and, if there are any, the local co-operators, are still in the dark is a fundamental shortcoming to justice being served and accountability,” Aksoy said.
The Saudi trial was held in secret, so there is no way of knowing if justice has been served with the sentencing of the unnamed perpetrators as Riyadh’s criminal court was closed during the year-long trial. Upon hearing the result of the Saudi court, the human rights organization Amnesty International categorized the verdict as nothing more than a whitewash of the truth.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) also issued a statement skeptical of the decision to sentence five people to death for involvement in Khashoggi’s death. HRW’s Adam Coogle wrote, “[A]bsolution of its (Saudi Arabia’s) senior leadership of any culpability in the murder of Jamal Khashoggi raises serious concerns over the fairness of the criminal proceedings.”
The initial response to the grisly murder of the journalist from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was a categorical denial of involvement in the affair.
In the United States, Khashoggi was best known for his columns in The Washington Post, where he often criticized the Saudi prince. President Trump took quite a bit of heat during the Khashoggi affair as he was unwilling to rush to judgment and speculate who was behind the murder. Trump’s tactic may have been a wait-and-see attitude as he clearly did not want to anger our Mideast allies.
If Saudi officials intended this outcome to quell the controversy surrounding Khashoggi’s death, they are badly mistaken. Today’s verdict appears to have incited only more questions about the methods, the motive, and the perpetrators involved in Khashoggi’s murder.
Read more from Leesa K. Donner.