Sentences in killing of Jamal Khashoggi condemned as 'mockery of justice'

A court in Saudi Arabia on Monday sentenced five people to death for the killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, while the outcome of the trial was condemned internationally as a "whitewash" and "mockery of justice."

5 sentenced to death, 3 to prison, but Saudi consul general in Turkey found not guilty

Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, pictured in 2014, was murdered in October 2018 after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. (Hasan Jamali/The Associated Press)

A court in Saudi Arabia on Monday sentenced five people to death for the killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, while the outcome of the trial was condemned internationally as a "whitewash" and "mockery of justice."

Three other people were found guilty by Riyadh's criminal court of covering up the crime and were sentenced to a combined 24 years in prison, according to a statement read by the Saudi attorney general's office on state TV.

Khashoggi's grisly slaying in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul last year drew international condemnation and cast a cloud of suspicion over Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman because several Saudi agents involved worked directly for him. The kingdom denies that bin Salman had any involvement in or knowledge of the operation.

Amnesty International pronounced the outcome a "whitewash." Agnes Callamard, who investigated the killing for the United Nations, condemned the trial as a "mockery of justice,"

"The fact that that the chain of command and the state have not been investigated means that the system that made it possible for Jamal Khashoggi to be killed has not been touched," Callamard said.

The trial concluded the killing was not premeditated, according to Shaalan al-Shaalan, a spokesperson from the attorney general's office. That finding is in line with the Saudi government's official explanation, which has been called into question by evidence that a hit team of Saudi agents with tools was sent to dispatch Khashoggi.

"The decision is too unlawful to be acceptable," Khashoggi's Turkish fiancée, Hatice Cengiz said in a text message to The Associated Press. "It is unacceptable."

In all, 11 people were put on trial in Saudi Arabia over the killing. The names of those found guilty were not disclosed by the government. Executions in the kingdom are carried out by beheading, sometimes in public. All the verdicts can be appealed.

A small number of diplomats, including from Turkey, as well as members of Khashoggi's family were allowed to attend the nine court sessions, though independent media were barred.

State TV also reported the Saudi attorney general's investigation showed that the crown prince's former top adviser, Saud al-Qahtani, had no proven involvement in the killing. Al-Qahtani, however, has been sanctioned by the United States for his alleged role in the operation.

The court also ruled that the Saudi consul general in Istanbul at the time, Mohammed al-Otaibi, was not guilty. He was released from prison after the verdicts were announced, according to state TV.

'We never go for the mastermind,' UN rapporteur says

Callamard, a UN special rapporteur who authored an inquiry into Khashoggi's killing, told CBC's As It Happens on Monday "it cannot be justice when the hitmen only are facing justice."

"I've been working on crimes against journalists for the last 15 years. There is a system of impunity worldwide because we never go for the mastermind."

Saudi crown prince tells 60 Minutes he didn't order Khashoggi's killing

4 years ago
Duration 0:38
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman told CBS program 60 Minutes he did not order the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi operatives last year, but said he ultimately bears 'full responsibility.'

Khashoggi had walked into his country's consulate in Istanbul on the morning of Oct. 2, 2018 to collect documents that would allow him to wed Cengiz, who waited for him outside. He never walked out, and his body has never been found.

Cengiz also retweeted a post from Nihad Awad, the executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).

"Miscarriage of justice," said Awad. "What about those who ordered, [co-ordinated] and hosted the brutal murder?"

Agnes Callamard, UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, and Hatice Cengiz, the partner of murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi, are shown earlier this month in Brussels. Callamard and Cengiz criticized the lack of transparency of the Saudi criminal proceedings. (Francois Lenoir/Reuters)

The 101-page report released this year by Callamard included details from the audio Turkish authorities shared with her. She reported hearing Saudi agents waiting for Khashoggi to arrive and one of them asking how they would carry out the body.

Not to worry, the doctor said. "Joints will be separated. It is not a problem," he said in the audio. "If we take plastic bags and cut it into pieces, it will be finished. We will wrap each of them."

The publisher of the Washington Post said the lack of transparency and the Saudi government's refusal to cooperate with independent investigators suggested "a sham trial."

"Those ultimately responsible, at the highest level of the Saudi government, continue to escape responsibility for the brutal murder of Jamal Khashoggi," Fred Ryan said in a statement.

However, one of Khashoggi's sons said the verdicts had been fair to his children.

"We affirm our confidence in the Saudi judiciary at all levels, that it has been fair to us and that justice has been achieved," Salah Khashoggi said on Twitter.

Writing criticized prince's duplicity

Khashoggi had spent the last year of his life in exile in the U.S. writing in the Post about human rights violations in Saudi Arabia. At a time when bin Salman's social reforms were being widely hailed in the West, Khashoggi's columns criticized the parallel crackdown on dissent the prince was overseeing. Numerous critics of the Saudi crown prince are in prison and face trial on national security charges.

The Trump administration sanctioned 17 Saudis suspected of being involved, though not the crown prince. Trump, however, has steadfastly resisted calls by members of his own party for a tougher response, and has defended maintaining good relations with Saudi Arabia, framing its importance as a major buyer of U.S. military equipment and weapons and saying this creates American jobs.

In Turkey, Yasin Aktay, a member of Turkey's ruling party and a friend of Khashoggi, criticized the verdict, saying the Saudi court had failed to bring the real perpetrators to justice. He also lamented that the trial was not transparent.

"The prosecutor sentenced five hit men to death but did not touch those who were behind the five," Aktay told The Associated Press. "These are people who cannot even use the bathroom without the permission of their superiors."

"The verdict neither meets the expectations of the public conscience nor the feeling of justice," he said.

Although Khashoggi's killing tarnished bin Salman's reputation internationally, he is hugely popular at home, especially among young Saudis happy with the social changes he's ushered in.

Saudi Arabia has over the past months launched efforts to open up the notoriously closed-off country to tourists and travellers from around the world as part of a push by the crown prince to boost the economy and change perceptions of the kingdom.

In an interview in September with CBS's 60 Minutes, bin Salman said: "I take full responsibility as a leader in Saudi Arabia." But he reiterated that he had no knowledge of the operation, saying he could not keep such close track of the country's millions of employees.

The prince's father, King Salman, ordered a shake-up of top security posts after the killing.

With files from CBC News and Reuters