Saudi Arabia Sentences Eight To Prison In Final Khashoggi Murder Ruling

On Monday this week, a Saudi court convicted eight people of murdering journalist Jamal Khashoggi, reported Reuters. Khashoggi, a seasoned journalist, was a strident critic of Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia, and prior to his murder had been living in exile in the United States for a year, according to Al Jazeera. Those convicted of murdering Khashoggi, though all remain unnamed, are believed to have been a part of a Saudi “15 man hit squad.” The Washington Post writes that the assassins traveled from Saudi Arabia to Turkey before killing and dismembering Khashoggi, who was last seen alive in the Saudi Consulate on October 2, 2018. Their sentences range from seven to twenty years in prison. 

The Khashoggi family lawyer, Motasem Khashoggi, said that the family is satisfied with the “fair and deterrent” ruling. Furthermore, the family issued a statement, writing: “we have delegated our command to God and to our rulers, who have fulfilled their promise. All our thanks, appreciation, gratitude and loyalty goes to them.” The family forgave the killers four months ago after an initial December trial ruled that some defendants would receive the death sentence. The court, which applied Sharia or Islamic law, also concluded that the murder was not premeditated. However, a family friend of Khashoggi, Jahshan, said that “the whole verdict seems to me to have been manipulated. According to legal practices in Saudi Arabia, the family has a right to commute any sentence, and the family has issued such a declaration – most probably under duress. I don’t think it was done freely, knowing the family,” reports Aljazeera. 

Though Khashoggi’s family has largely cooperated with the government, Hatice Cengiz, Khashoggi’s fiance, wrote that “the Saudi authorities are closing the case without the world knowing the truth of who is responsible for Jamal’s murder,” reports Reuters. Khashoggi had traveled to the Saudi consulate to begin paperwork that would allow him to marry Cengiz. 

UN spokesman Ruper Colville said in Geneva that in this case “there has not been proper transparency in the justice process, those responsible should be prosecuted and given sentences commensurate with the crime.” Indeed Turkey, unsatisfied with the Saudi courts, launched a separate investigation into the murder and, this past March, indicted 20 Saudi nationals. Turkey’s investigation, though it bears little real weight since there is no way to enforce the indictments, implicated former deputy intelligence chief Ahmed al-Assiri and royal court and media adviser Saud al-Qahtani. Though the Saudi government has called the asassination a “rogue operation,” serious questions surround the involvement of high-level government officials, including the Crown Prince. 

Rami Khouri, from the American University of Beirut, stated that “the crown prince has been implicated – that’s a very serious accusation when it comes from the investigator at the United Nations and the CIA.” Khashoggi had sought refuge in the US as bin Salman began a crackdown on activists, writers, and critics of the government, apparently fleeing persecution. According to the Washington Post, the CIA has concluded with “medium to high confidence” that bin Salman ordered Khashoggi’s murder, and many other Western countries have intimated the same, though this charge has been categorically denied by the Saudi government.

Saudi Arabia adheres to Islamic law and “lacks a codified legal system,” writes Reuters. In 2018, Khashoggi’s grisly murder shocked the world and alienated Saudi Arabia’s allies. It was likely for this reason that the trial remained closed to both the public and media. Though the trial was praised by some pro-government supporters in Saudi Arabia, it has left most unsatisfied at the lack of accountability and transparency. Adam Coogle, the deputy director of the Middle East and North Africa division of Human Rights Watch, argued that the judicial process “has shielded top officials from any and all scrutiny.” It is clear that the court proceedings, though now concluded, failed to either deliver justice or uncover the true circumstances of Khashoggi’s murder.