The ruling on the murder of The Washington Post’s journalist Jamal Khashoggi by a Saudi Arabian court has become a major global controversy. On December 23, a Saudi court ruled that Khashoggi’s murder was not premeditated and it was done in the spur of the moment. The court sentenced five men to death, jailed three others and acquitted three in Khashoggi’s murder. Thus, it gave a clean chit to the Mohammad Bin Salman Al Saud (MBS) and his close colleagues.
Khashoggi was murdered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey in October 2018. He was once a supporter of Saudi’s authoritarian regime. Later, he became a critic and fled Saudi in 2017 and resided in the US. He started writing a column for The Washington Post and used to criticise Saudi policies and its violation of human rights. On October 2, 2018, Jamal went inside the Saudi consulate at Istanbul to obtain necessary documents for his wedding.
Initially, the Saudi authorities lied saying Khashoggi walked out of its consulate soon after he entered. His fiancee Hatice Cengiz was waiting outside the consulate. It took many days for Saudi to admit that he was murdered in the consulate. However, it said that the murder was a rogue operation. Hatice criticised the ruling saying, “If these people are executed without any chance to speak or explain themselves, we might never know the truth behind this murder.” Even Khashoggi’s body was not recovered.
The trial was highly secretive and began in January. The convicts are not named even in the verdict. Experts called it ‘typical Saudi justice’, ‘mockery of justice’ etc. Turkey’s Communications Director Fahrettin Altun slammed the ruling and said, “The international community and the media must pursue Khashoggi’s case until there is true accountability”.
Earlier, the UN and CIA had implicated Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince MBS in Khashoggi’s murder. The UN report released in June said that every expert consulted finds it inconceivable that an operation of this scale could be implemented without the Crown Prince being aware”. A couple of Western intelligence agencies had expressed the opinion that MBS was directly behind the assassination of Jamal. They said that a 15-member hit squad had arrived in Istanbul with an intention to kill Jamal and they vanished as soon as he was killed.
After initial denial by Saudi authorities, Turkey released videotapes of hit squads consisting of 15 people arriving in Istanbul a day before the murder. They also had a video of Khashoggi entering the consulate. The hit squad left Istanbul soon after the killing him. Such kind of operation was not possible without clearance from the top. It means from the MBS, his advisor Saoud Al Qahtani and former deputy intelligence chief Ahmed Al-Assiri. All of them are not touched and they got scot-free. Finally, when will these five people be executed, the overall conspiracy and Khashoggi’s murder will remain suspense forever. They have an opportunity to challenge the verdict in a higher court.
Agnes Callamard, a UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions tweeted, “Under International human rights law, the killing of Khashoggi was an extrajudicial execution for which the state of Saudi Arabia is responsible.”
The history of MBS since he was declared Crown Prince in 2017 is of using state power to repress his critics. In fact, Saudis had lots of expectations from the Crown Prince as he spoke of reforms in the system. Instead, he went after a couple of Saudi royals, ministers and heads of various business enterprises. It was done to consolidate his position.
Globally, nobody is convinced with the ruling. International community needs to speak on the issue and see justice is done in the case.