Media Watchdog RSF slams Saudi Arabia’s ruling over Khashoggi murder

Justice was “trampled” on with the death sentence meted out on Monday to five Saudis for the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Paris-based media rights watchdog Reporters Without Borders said.

The group’s secretary general, Christophe Deloire, tweeted that 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 trial, which had taken place behind closed doors, “did not respect international standards of justice,” he said, adding: “Justice has been trampled on.”

“The opacity of the procedure and the concealment of evidence does not allow us to get an idea” of why several others were convicted or acquitted, said Deloire, insisting: “We still expect a full accounting.”

Five sentenced to death, Qahtani not charged

Former adviser to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was released alongside ex-deputy intelligence chief Assiri and consul-general Otaibi, according to the ruling.

Five people have been sentenced to death and three more jailed over the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul in October last year, Saudi Arabia’s deputy public prosecutor said on Monday.

Saud al-Qahtani, a former adviser to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who has been widely linked to the murder plot, was released without charge, the prosecutor, Shalaan al-Shalaan, said.

Ahmed al-Assiri, a former deputy intelligence chief, and Mohammed al-Otaibi, Saudi Arabia’s consul-general in Istanbul at the time of the killing, were also released due to a lack of evidence, the prosecutor said.

Khashoggi was murdered after entering the Saudi consulate in the Turkish city on 2 October 2018 in what a United Nations report called an “extrajudicial killing for which Saudi Arabia is responsible”.

UN Special Rapporteur Agnes Callamard found there was credible evidence warranting further investigation of high-level Saudi officials, including Mohammed bin Salman. The CIA has also concluded that the crown prince was responsible for the killing.

Saudi authorities have denied the crown prince was aware of the plot, or its botched cover-up, and had suggested instead that Assiri and Qahtani were responsible.

Khashoggi, a Middle East Eye and Washington Post columnist, was a prominent critic of Mohammed bin Salman and the Saudi government.

In the deputy public prosecutor’s statement, he suggested that, despite the complex nature of the operation and the presence of a forensic pathologist in the hit squad, there was no prior plan to kill the journalist.

Throughout the Saudi investigation and trial the identities of the defendants have been kept secret. Shalaan again refused to name the five sentenced to death, who he said were convicted “for committing and directly participating in the murder of the victim”.

The three others convicted were found to have had a “role in covering up this crime and violating the law”, Shalaan said, adding that they were handed a total of 24 years in prison.

In her report, Callamard said she had discovered who was being put on trial, and which five out of the 11 were facing death.

Those facing the death penalty, the report said, were Maher Abdulaziz Mutreb, one of the crown prince’s bodyguards, and Salah al-Tubaigy, a forensic pathologist.

Fahad Shabib al-Balawi, Turki Muserref al-Shehri and Waleed Abdullah al-Shehri were also facing death, the report said.

Mutreb, who has been seen accompanying bin Salman on visits to foreign countries, is part of the Tiger Squad, an elite unit tasked with sensitive operations.

Middle East Eye revealed last year that Assiri and Qahtani were part of the Tiger Squad’s command structure. A source with intimate knowledge of the unit told MEE that Mutreb was chosen personally by Mohammed bin Salman, “who depends on him and is close to him”.

Tubaigy, meanwhile, is heard in audio recordings of the murder planning and executing Khashoggi’s assassination and dismemberment.

Callamard, who listened to the recordings from the consulate, which were obtained and leaked piecemeal by Turkish intelligence services, wrote in her report that Tubaigy was a last-minute addition to the team sent to Istanbul, and ill at ease with the plan.

“My direct manager is not aware of what I am doing,” Tubaigy said. “There is nobody to protect me.”

A month after Khashoggi’s murder, the US Treasury sanctioned 17 Saudis implicated in the operation, including Qahtani, Assiri and Otaibi.

“The Saudi officials we are sanctioning were involved in the abhorrent killing of Jamal Khashoggi.  These individuals who targeted and brutally killed a journalist who resided and worked in the United States must face consequences for their actions,” the Treasury said at the time.

The verdicts against the eight convicted Saudis can be appealed. Khashoggi’s eldest son, Salah Khashoggi, can also offer clemency.

According to a report based on Emirati intelligence, Saudi Arabia has sought to move beyond the Khashoggi scandal by offering “blood money” to the slain journalist’s family in return for them forgoing the right of revenge or “qisas”.

Salah Khashoggi recently denied that payments made to the family were an admission of guilt by Saudi rulers. In April, the Washington Post reported the journalist’s children were given million-dollar homes and monthly payments of at least $10,000.