Saudi Arabia’s public prosecutor announced Monday that five people have been sentenced to death and three sentenced to jail terms in connection with the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last year.
The trial verdict revealed that charges had been dismissed for the remaining three of the eleven that had been on trial. The trial did not find that the killing was premeditated.
Among those not indicted were two top Saudi officials who were exonerated due to lack of evidence.
The murder of Jamal Khashoggi in October 2018 sparked the year long investigation. Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist and columnist for The Washington Post, entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to obtain marriage documents and was later killed, his body dismembered and taken from the consulate. The remains have yet to be found.
Following Khashoggi’s death there was an international outcry calling for an investigation into Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad. Khashoggi was an outspoken critic of him; the CIA and other Western governments said they believe he had ordered the murder.
The United Nations issued their own report in October 2019, squarely placing the blame on Saudi Arabia for the murder, calling it premeditated and criticizing both the Saudi and Turkish governments for interfering with the investigation.
While the Saudi government was quick to react to the UN’s report as nothing new and inconsequential to their own trial, criticism still remains surrounding the exoneration of two top officials connected to the Crown Prince, Saud al-Qahtani and Ahmed al-Assiri.
Both al-Qahtani and al-Assiri were dismissed from their positions, al-Assiri was tried and released and Al-Qahtani was investigated but not charged.
The Trump administration responded in November 2018 by imposing sanctions against 17 Saudi citizens suspected of being involved in the murder, including al-Qahtani who was one of the Crown Prince’s media advisors.
These death sentences still must be confirmed by Saudi higher courts, they mark the culmination of the year long investigation and trial. The Saudi government may still continue to face backlash by human rights organizations and other governments who are wary of their handling of the process.
Adam Coogle, a researcher for Human Rights Watch, told the New York Times that the “opaque nature of the trial” in addition to the overall handling of the case and the complete exoneration of Saudi leadership called for further independent investigation.
Coogle stated, “Saudi Arabia’s handling of the murder, from complete denial to hanging the murder on lower-level operatives in a trial that lacked transparency, demonstrates the need for an independent criminal inquiry.”