Saudi Arabia on Monday sentenced five people to death and three more to jail terms totalling 24 years over the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul in October last year.
Saudi Deputy Public Prosecutor and spokesman Shalaan al-Shalaan, reading out the verdict in the trial, said the court dismissed charges against the remaining three of the 11 people that had been on trial, finding them not guilty.
Khashoggi was a US resident and critic of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the kingdom’s de facto ruler. He was last seen at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2, 2018, where he had gone to receive papers ahead of his wedding. His body was reportedly dismembered and removed from the building, and his remains have not been found.
The killing caused a global uproar, tarnishing the crown prince’s image. The CIA and some Western governments have said they believe Prince Mohammed ordered the killing, but Saudi officials say he had no role. Eleven Saudi suspects were put on trial over his death in secretive proceedings in Riyadh.
In the investigation into the murder, 21 were arrested and 10 were called in for questioning without arrest, Shalaan said.
Riyadh’s criminal court pronounced the death penalty on five individuals, whose names have not yet been released, “for committing and directly participating in the murder of the victim”.
The three sentenced to prison were given various sentences totalling 24 years “for their role in covering up this crime and violating the law”.
Shalaan added that the investigations proved there was no “prior enmity” between those convicted and Khashoggi.
The verdicts can still be appealed.
Last November the Saudi prosecutor said that Saud al-Qahtani, a former high-profile Saudi royal adviser, had discussed Khashoggi’s activities before he entered the Saudi consulate with the team which went on to kill him.
The prosecutor said Qahtani acted in coordination with deputy intelligence chief Ahmed al-Asiri, who he said had ordered Khashoggi’s repatriation from Turkey and that the lead negotiator on the ground then decided to kill him.
Both men were dismissed from their positions but while Asiri went on trial, Qahtani did not.
On Monday Shalaan said Asiri has been released due to insufficient evidence, and Qahtani had been investigated but was not charged and had been released.
Qahtani, who led fiery social media campaigns against critics of the kingdom and was seen as a conduit to the crown prince, has not appeared publicly since the murder and his whereabouts are a subject of fevered speculation.
Agnes Callamard, a UN special rapporteur who authored an inquiry into Khashoggi’s killing, reacted to the verdict by tweeting that “the travesty of investigation, prosecution and justice continues”in Saudi Arabia.
US President Donald Trump condemned the killing, and his 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 Riyadh, framing its importance as a major buyer of US military equipment and weapons and saying this creates American jobs.
Meanwhile, numerous critics of the Saudi crown prince remain imprisoned and face trial for their acts of dissent.