As It Happens

Masterminds of Khashoggi's murder walk free after hitmen sentenced to death, says UN rapporteur

The sentencing of eight men for Jamal Khashoggi's murder is a "travesty of justice" because the people who masterminded the killing have walked free, says UN special rapporteur Agnès Callamard. 

Agnès Callamard calls the sentencing a 'travesty of justice'

Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi speaks during a news conference in Manama, Bahrain, in 2014. (Hasan Jamali/The Associated Press)


The sentencing of eight men for Jamal Khashoggi's murder is a "travesty of justice" because the people who masterminded the killing have walked free, says UN special rapporteur Agnès Callamard.

On Monday, a court in Saudi Arabia sentenced five men to death and three others to a total of 24 years in prison for their role in the killing of the Washington Post columnist. 

Khashoggi was killed in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul last year. His body was never found. 

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has denied any involvement. 

The trial into his death was shrouded in secrecy, but the Saudi deputy public prosecutor said in a statement that "the killing was not premeditated" and that it was done in the "spur of the moment."

That is not what Callamard found in her investigation. She is the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings, who authored an inquiry on Khashoggi's death. Here is part of her conversation with As It Happens guest host Helen Mann.

You called this trial in Saudi Arabia, and I'm quoting, "the antithesis of justice." Why?

Because the people that have been sentenced today are those at the lowest level of the chain of command. They are the hitmen. They executed an order.

The people who masterminded the killing of Jamal Khashoggi have all walked free. To me, that trial is a travesty of justice and it is enshrining impunity for the killing of journalists.

Agnes Callamard, left, UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, and Hatice Cengiz, Khashoggi's partner, are shown earlier this month in Brussels. (Francois Lenoir/Reuters)

So of the eight found guilty, three are going to jail. Five have been sentenced to death. There are going to be some who say this is justice in some form.

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.

It is crucial that the killing of journalists leads to an investigation into the chain of command. The killing of a journalist is not like any other killing. It involves corruption. It involves repression. It involves propaganda. It involves abuse of power.

In your very thorough investigation of Mr. Khashoggi's murder earlier this year, what did you determine about who actually ordered his killing?

The evidence points overwhelmingly — and, in fact, in only one direction — which is that the killing was the state killing.

That's the first thing. The second step should then consist in unpacking what we mean by state. That's what the prosecutor should have done — looked at who within the state has either allowed for the crime to take place, has ordered the crime, has incited the crime, has turned a blind eye to the crime. 

It is my conclusions, based on the evidence I collected ... there is absolutely no doubt that the liability of the crown prince is involved.

Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said in September that he takes 'full responsibility' for the grisly murder, but denied allegations that he ordered it. (Mandel Ngan/The Associated Press)

In that confidential material about the trial that you received, is there any indication that anyone raised the state's responsibility, be it the crown prince or anyone else?

Not directly. There is evidence — plenty of evidence, in fact — that the defendants throughout the trial have consistently argued that they were obeying orders. But that … seemingly has been rejected as part of the legal finding and reasoning. 

What the defendants also argued, against evidence, is that they killed Mr. Khashoggi in the spur of the moment.

To suggest for one second that Mr. Khashoggi could have been dismembered in the spur of the moment, that the body parts could have been carried out, handed over to an unknown individual, that the crime scene could have been sufficiently cleaned up so that people will come in the following day, will not be horrified by what they witnessed — I mean, clearly that cannot be done in the spur of the moment. It requires planning. 

The presence of the forensic doctor who was brought in the team at least 24 hours before the execution of the crime also testified to the effect that the killing of Jamal Khashoggi became part of the plan at least 24 hours before it actually happened. 

Finally, the fact that there is a recording of that same doctor explaining how he's going to proceed with dismembering a body and how body parts can be carried out two hours before exactly those crimes take place, you know, that cannot be an accident. So the crime was premeditated.

You are one of the only people to hear the recorded phone calls about this and also recordings of Mr. Khashoggi pleading for his life. Can you tell me how much of that has stayed with you?

Of course it has stayed with me. These are the last words of Jamal Khashoggi. He entered the consulate a happy man. He was coming to pick up the documents that would allow him to begin a new life. The love of his life was waiting outside for him. 

And what does he confront on his own? He confronts five killers in the consul office. And what does he have to oppose ... them? Nothing. Just his kindness, his politeness and, ultimately, his pen and his memory. 

That's what we have to fight for — for him. 

You say we must fight for Mr. Khashoggi. If this trial is a sham and not true justice, what recourse is there? What is next? 

It's a whitewash. It's important that the international community, the elected officials, our elected officials, do not go publicly now to pretend that this is a good step for Saudi Arabia. 

We want them to say that it is not justice. We want them to ask for an investigation in Saudi Arabia or elsewhere, i.e. to the United Nations system, into the chain of command that made possible the killing of Mr. Khashoggi.

Let me insist and reiterate that as long as we do not go after those that commission the killing of the journalist, we endorse their killing.

Written by Sarah Jackson with files from The Associated Press. Produced by Jeanne Armstrong. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity. 


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