Riyadh Criminal Court Delivers Final Verdict of the Jamal Khashoggi Murder Case

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Moshiuzzaman
Moshiuzzaman holds a 2:1 LL.B degree from BPP University (UK). He is currently pursuing the CFA chartership and working as an independent legal researcher at the American Society of International Law (ASIL)

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The Saudi based Court convicted eight Saudi nationals concerning the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. Five were given the maximum sentence of 20 years’ imprisonment, another individual was given 10 years’ imprisonment, and the other two were given 7 years’ imprisonment each. 

Who was Jamal Khashoggi and why was he killed? 

Jamal Khashoggi, 59, was a prominent Saudi journalist, who acted as a former adviser to the Saudi government. For decades, he was a loyal and trusted associate of the Saudi Royal family. However, following the ascension of Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, he quickly fell out of favour of the Royal family. Writing as a columnist for the Washington Post, Jamal wrote extensively against the Crown Prince’s policies, particularly, against the crackdown on other members of the Royal family and the Saudi cabinet; a move widely credited for consolidating power to Prince. Understanding he was unwelcomed by the Saudi government and fearing immediate arrest; he went voluntarily went into exile in the United States. 

Having left the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Jamal’s time was divided between his stay in the United Kingdom, the United States and pff late, Turkey. Although Jamal was a U.S. resident with a green card, he did not have full U.S. citizenship. On the 28th of September 2018, Jamal had arrived at Turkey to visit the Saudi Consulate. His purpose of the visit was to obtain a document that finalized his divorce of his first wife, Rawia al-Tunisi. He was engaged and to be married to his Turkish fiancée, Hatice Cengiz. The consulate, however, informed that Jamal had to return another time to collect the document. Jamal agreed to return on the 2nd of October.

Fearing his arrest at the consulate, Jamal had given his fiancée, Hatice, his phone and a number to contact an adviser to the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. After waiting for 10 hours, Hatice left the consulate and came back the next day looking for Jamal. Hatice, in a later interview, stated that Jamal believed he would not be harmed in Turkish soil.

Initially, the Saudi government denied all allegations of being involved in Jamal’s disappearance. In mid-October, Turkish Intelligence authorities reported that Jamal had been murdered by a 15 member Saudi death squad. The evidence was later corroborated by the American Intelligence wing, the CIA. After two weeks of denial, the Saudi government admitted that Jamal was murdered in a “rogue operation” by a team of agents that tried to persuade Jamal to return to Saudi Arabia. Jamal was reported to have died in a “fight”, where he was chocked to death. 

On the 15th of November, Saudi Arabia’s deputy public prosecutor said that the murder was orchestrated by the head of a “negotiation team” sent to Istanbul by the Saudi Deputy Intelligence Chief. This team was tasked to bring Khashoggi back to Saudi. Investigators concluded that Khashoggi was forcibly restrained and was injected with a high dose of a sedative drug. Due to an overdose, he later died. The public prosecutor stated that Jamal’s body was dismembered and “handed” over to a local “collaborator” outside the consulate for disposal. 

Final Verdict of the Criminal Court of Riyadh’s 

In late September 2018, 31 suspects were investigated over the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. Later, 21 of them were arrested. Five Saudi government officials were also sacked, including the Deputy Intelligence Chief Ahmad Asiri and Saud al-Qahtani, a senior aide to Prince Mohammad bin Salman. Later in January 2019, 11 individuals, who were not named, were put on trial at the Criminal Court of Riyadh, with the public prosecutor seeking the death penalty for five of them. In May 2019, Khashoggi’s sons had formally pardoned Jamal’s murder stating that they trusted the Saudi judiciary, at all levels and left the fate of his father’s death to the Lord Almighty. Under s.2, Article 23 of Criminal Procedural Law of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, an heir to the victim of a private criminal offence could pardon the perpetrator. However, this did not preclude a public criminal action against the perpetrator. The Khashoggi family’s pardon resulted in a reprieve for the five defendants sentenced to death. The five individuals were given the maximum sentence – 20 years’ imprisonment, under public criminal action. Another individual was sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment, while the other two were each given 7 years imprisonment. 

International Reactions to the Verdict 

Jamal Khashoggi’s murder was internationally condemned. It caused a massive disaccord between Saudi Arabia and its Western Allies, particularly the United States. This disaccord was quickly recovered, however, via a state visit by Prince Mohammad bin Salman. After the Saudi government admitted their involvement, President Donald Trump described the incident as the “worst cover-up in history” while maintaining and defending a strong case for US-KSA diplomatic relation. This response was widely criticized by U.S. senators in Congress, who demanded tougher action against the country. 

Similarly, Hatice Cengiz, the fiancée of late Jamal condemned the Saudi court’s verdict and stated the decision was a “mockery of justice”. UN special rapporteur, Agnes Callamard stated that the trial failed to “international standards of prosecution”. In a 101-page U.N. report, it was concluded that while it may be unclear who ordered the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, evidence dictates that it was Saudi Arabia that was ultimately responsible for Jamal’s death.

In the interim, the US, Canada, France, and the United Kingdom all levied against the 18 Saudis who were allegedly involved in the killing. Meanwhile, Europeans states like Germany, Finland and Denmark had halted all sorts of arms-related deals with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.


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