A court in Saudi Arabia has sentenced five people to death on Monday, for their role in the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, a dissenting Washington Post columnist, at the Saudi Arabian consulate in Turkey last year.
Three others were handed lengthy sentences amounting to 24-year jail terms, as two top officials escape the sentencing.
The Saudi deputy public prosecutor and spokesman, Shalaan al-Shalaan said, “The court issued death sentences on five men who directly took part in the killing,” after a trial which lasted for nine sessions, all held in near-total secrecy.
The total breakdown of how the jail time was divided is still kept secret, and neither will the identities of the convicts be made public. However, it has been stated that all those charged will have an opportunity to appeal the ruling.
Those convicted with jail terms were charged “for their role in covering up this crime and violating the law,” said Shalaan. They were found not to have premeditated the murder.
Officials said that the deceased, Jamal Khashoggi, was killed on October 2, 2018, in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, by men who had close ties to the Saudi government.
Khashoggi was a Saudi journalist and Washington Post contributor and was popular as he was often critical of Saudi Arabia and its Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman (MBS).
The fact that several agents involved in the murder worked directly for the Crown Prince made him the centre of international criticism.
The kingdom has, however, denied and still continues to deny that the Prince had any involvement or knowledge, of the operation.
Top Officials Avoid Prosecution
There are some top government officials who were implicated in the murder of the journalist but have somehow managed to avoid sentencing.
During the investigation, a total of 21 people were arrested, while 10 others were questioned without being arrested.
Saud al-Qahtani, a former top adviser to Saudi Arabia’s Crown prince, Saud al-Qahtani was released but not charged. His release came, even after he had been sanctioned by the US for his role in the operation.
Mohammed al-Otaibi, another top official, was also found not guilty. The Saudi consul-general in Istanbul at the time of the murder was released from prison following the verdict.
The trial was held in top-secret, with only a few of diplomats in attendance — including those from Turkey, along with members of Khashoggi’s family.
Reactions from Around the World
Many activists, politicians, and other people from all walks of life have come out with guns blazing at the court ruling.
Amnesty International, a rights organization said the verdict is “a whitewash which brings neither justice nor truth and comes as courts in Saudi Arabia routinely hold grossly unfair trials.”
Callamard, the U.N. special rapporteur who had previously warned that the case was vulnerable to political interference reacted to the verdict via Twitter claiming that, “the travesty of investigation, prosecution and justice continues in Saudi Arabia.”
Yasin Aktay, a member of Turkey’s ruling party and a close friend of Jamal Khashoggi, criticized the verdict, claiming that the Saudi court had failed to bring the real perpetrators to justice.
“The prosecutor sentenced five hitmen to death but did not touch those who were behind the five…the verdict neither meets the expectations of the public conscience nor the feeling of justice,” he said.
Although the murder of Khashoggi had tarnished the image of the Crown Prince in the West, he was very popular back at home. In fact, some young Saudis were happy with the social changes he had ushered in.
Furthermore, the companies that stayed away from the Kingdom due to public backlash are back to continue conducting businesses.
How will the world react to the verdict? Will the names of those charged ever become public for transparency purposes? How will this affect the relationship between Saudi Arabia and other countries – especially the West?
For now, only time will tell.