The Death of Saudi Arabia journalist Jamal Khashoggi has been a mystery since his disappearance and death in 2018. Two senior officials have been cleared of all accusations as the public prosecutor of Saudi Arabia gave the announcement, and five people were found guilty and are now sentenced to death. The death of Khashoggi last year caused a worldwide outcry against Saudi Arabia. Khashoggi wrote columns in The Washington Post and wrote many articles criticizing the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Many feel this is what led to Khashoggi’s death and dismemberment in Istanbul. His remains still have not been recovered.
Speculation surrounded the year-long trial in Riyadh’s criminal court as it was done in secrecy. All sessions were closed to the public. It was feared by human rights groups that the proceedings were unfair, and those involved would escape justice with the lack of transparency. The U.S., Turkey, and other diplomats were allowed to attend the trial but were sworn to secrecy not to disclose any information regarding the trial. According to a spokesman for Saudi Arabia, public prosecutor, Shalaan al-Shalaan stated Khashoggi’s family was allowed to attend the trial but also could not speak of the details that took place behind closed doors.
As the verdict rolled in, five people were sentenced to the death penalty, and three others received jail sentences for up to 24 years. The names of the defendants were not disclosed, and it raises red flags as to how this trial can be so silenced. It was stated before the death penalty is carried out, higher courts have to confirm the sentence.
The two senior aides who were exonerated were Saud al-Qahtani and Ahmed al-Assiri. These were the ones who were thought to be the killers. The CIA stated the crown prince ordered the slaying of Khashoggi. Saudi Arabia insisted the crown prince knew nothing of the plot and did not order it to take place. Shalaan al-Shalaan stated, Qahtani, which is a media advisor to the crown prince, “was investigated by the public prosecutor and was not charged because of a lack of evidence against him.”
Salah Khashoggi, the oldest of Jamal’s children, said in a post on Twitter, “The fairness of the judiciary is based on two principles: justice and the speed of litigation so that there is no injustice or procrastination. Today the judiciary was just to us, the sons of Jamal Khashoggi. And we affirm our confidence in the Saudi judiciary on all its levels, in it being fair to us, and achieving justice. Thanks be to Allah.”
Questions and comments from Fred Ryan, who is a Washington Post publisher, stated, “The complete lack of transparency and the Saudi government’s refusal to cooperate with independent investigators suggests that this was merely 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.” Qahtani was one of 17 citizens from Saudi Arabia, which the Trump administration placed sanctions. According to officials, “Qahtani was part of the planning and execution of the operation that led to the killing of Mr. Khashoggi.”
Saudi Arabia’s former deputy head of intelligence, Assiri, was charged for issuing the order for the forced return of Khashoggi to Saudi Arabia. Prosecutors said he was responsible, but it was not proven. Turkish officials still claim Khashoggi’s death was planned. Saudi Arabia stated it was a “rogue operation carried out by overzealous agents who had been instructed to return Khashoggi to Saudi Arabia alive.” Shalaan stated, “The investigation showed there was no prior intention to kill at the start of this mission. The killing was a snap decision.”
Around the middle part of this year, a U.N. investigator agreed Saudi Arabia was responsible for the death of Khashoggi. Agnès Callamard, a special rapporteur with the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, stated, “Khashoggi’s slaying constituted an extrajudicial killing for which the State of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is responsible.”
Adam Coogle, a Middle East researcher for New York-based Human Rights Watch, wrote a text message which stated, “Saudi Arabia’s absolution of its senior leadership of any culpability in the murder of Jamal Khashoggi raises serious concerns over the fairness of the criminal proceedings. The kingdom’s handling of the killing 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.”