RSF slams Saudi court verdict on Khashoggi case trampling justice
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has censured the verdict recently handed down by a Saudi court in the case of murdering the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi trampling on justice.
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In a statement issued on Monday, the Paris-based media rights watchdog noted that by meting out death sentence to five Saudi on charges of killing the dissident journalist, Saudi Arabia actually seeks to “permanently silence the suspects” involved in the murder of Khashoggi.
Khashoggi, 59, a former advocate of the Saudi royal court who later became a critic of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), was killed after being lured into the Saudi diplomatic mission in Istanbul on October 2 last year.
The Saudi government initially claimed Khashoggi left the consulate on that day, but it later said he had been killed. It alleged, though, that he had been killed by a “rogue” group.
Reading out the preliminary verdict in the trial on Monday, Saudi Deputy Public Prosecutor Shalaan al-Shalaan said of the 11 unnamed individuals held over Khashoggi’s death, five were sentenced to death, three more were sentenced to jail terms totaling 24 years and the remaining three were exonerated.
Riyadh's criminal court issued death sentences on five men "for committing and directly participating in the murder of the victim", he said, adding that the three who are facing jail terms were sentenced "for their role in covering up this crime and violating the law".
Later in the day, Christophe Deloire, the rights group’s secretary general, denounced the so-called trials, saying the sentences “can be interpreted as a means to permanently silence the suspects, a way to prevent them from speaking to better cover up the truth.”
The chief of Reporters Without Borders, known by its French acronym as RSF, said in a tweet that “Justice has been trampled on” by the rulings, adding that the “trial, which had taken place behind closed doors did not respect international standards of justice.”
“The opacity of the procedure and the concealment of evidence do not allow us to get an idea” of why a number of others were convicted or acquitted, Deloire said
“We still expect a full accounting.”
The deputy public prosecutor also said that Saud al-Qahtani, a top aide to MBS, was investigated but not charged, while former deputy intelligence chief Ahmed al-Assiri was charged but acquitted, both “due to insufficient evidence.”
Both men were sacked from their positions in the wake of the scandal.
The gruesome murder of Khashoggi, whose remains have not yet found, caused a global uproar, tarnishing the crown prince’s image. The Washington Post, for which Khashoggi was a columnist, reported in November last year that the CIA had concluded that MBS personally ordered the killing.
In a relevant development on Monday, Turkey criticized Saudi court’s verdict, saying it stopped well short of delivering justice and shedding light on the killing.
A statement issued by Turkey’s foreign ministry said the decision announced by the Saudi court "is far from meeting the expectations of both our country and the international community to shed light on the murder with all its dimensions and deliver justice."
The statement added that key aspects of the murder including the whereabouts of Khashoggi's body were "left in the dark," which amounted to a "fundamental deficiency" in terms of accountability, AFP reported.
"It is not only a legal but also a conscientious responsibility to shed light on this murder committed in our territory and to punish all those responsible," the Turkish foreign ministry said, reiterating Turkey's expectation of judicial cooperation from Saudi authorities.
Meanwhile Khashoggi’s fiancée, Hatice Cengiz, took to Twitter the same day, dismissing Saudi court’s announcement as " not acceptable.”