DUBAI: A Saudi court issued final verdicts on Monday in the case of slain Washington Post columnist and Saudi critic Jamal Khashoggi after his son, who still resides in the kingdom, announced pardons that spared five of the convicted individuals from execution.
While the trial draws to its conclusion in Saudi Arabia, the case continues to cast a shadow over the reputation and international standing of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, whose associates have been sanctioned by the US and the UK for their alleged involvement in the brutal killing, which took place inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
The Riyadh Criminal Court’s final verdicts were announced by Saudi Arabia’s state television, which aired few details about the eight Saudi nationals and did not name them. The court ordered a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison for the five. Another individual received a 10-year sentence, and two others were ordered to serve seven years in prison.
A team of 15 Saudi agents had flown to Turkey to meet Khashoggi inside the consulate for his appointment on Oct. 2, 2018 to pick up documents that would allow him to marry his Turkish fiance, who waited outside. The team included a forensic doctor, intelligence and security officers, and individuals who worked directly for the crown prince’s office, according to Agnes Callamard, who investigated the killing for the United Nations.
Turkish officials allege Khashoggi was killed and then dismembered with a bone saw inside the consulate. His body has not been found. Turkey apparently had the Saudi Consulate bugged and shared audio of the killing with the C.I.A., among others.
Western intelligence agencies, as well as the US Congress, have said the crown prince bears ultimate responsibility for the killing and that an operation of this magnitude could not have happened without his knowledge.
The Saudi verdicts came after the kingdom tried 11 people in total in December, sentencing five to death and ordering three others to lengthy prison terms for covering up the crime.
The Saudi trial, however, had concluded that the killing was not premeditated. That paved the way for Salah Khashoggi, one of the slain writer’s sons, to months later announce that the family had forgiven his Saudi killers, which essentially allows them to be pardoned from execution in accordance with Islamic law.
Salah Khashoggi lives in Saudi Arabia and has received financial compensation from the royal court for his father’s killing.
The trial has been widely criticized by rights groups and observers, who note that no senior officials nor anyone suspected of ordering the killing has been found guilty. The independence of the Riyadh Criminal Court has also been questioned.
Prior to his killing, Khashoggi had written critically of Prince Mohammed in columns for the Washington Post at a time when the young heir to the throne was being widely hailed by Washington for pushing through social reforms.
Khashoggi’s columns criticized the parallel crackdown on dissent overseen by the prince. Dozens of perceived critics of the prince remain in prison, including women’s rights activists, and face trial on national security charges.
Khashoggi had been living in exile in the United States for about a year, leaving Saudi Arabia just as Prince Mohammed was beginning to unleash a crackdown on Saudi human rights activists, writers and critics of the kingdom’s devastating war in Yemen.
A small number of diplomats, including from Turkey, as well as members of Khashoggi’s family, were allowed to attend the initial trial’s nine court sessions. Independent media were barred.