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Saudi court issues final verdicts for 8 people in death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi

The Criminal Court in Riyadh sentenced the defendants to prison for the 2018 murder of the journalist, who was killed in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.
Jamal Khashoggi during a news conference in Bahrain in 2014.
Jamal Khashoggi during a news conference in Bahrain in 2014.Mohammed Al-Shaikh / AFP - Getty Images file

Final verdicts were issued Monday in Saudi Arabia for eight people in the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, in a judicial process slammed by a U.N. investigator as a “parody of justice.”

Five people were given 20 years in prison, another person received a 10-year sentence, and the two remaining people were ordered to serve seven years in prison, a spokesperson for Saudi Arabia's public prosecution bureau announced.

The trial has been criticized by a U.N. official and human rights campaigners who have said that the high-level architects of the murder remain free. Khashoggi’s fiancee said the Saudis were closing the case without the world knowing the truth of who is responsible for his murder.

Agnes Callamard, who investigated the killing for the United Nations, said the Saudi Prosecutor had Monday performed one more act in this “parody of justice.”

“But these verdicts carry no legal or moral legitimacy. They came at the end of a process which was neither fair, nor just, or transparent,” she tweeted, adding that the responsibility of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had never been meaningfully scrutinized in Saudi Arabia.

The CIA has found that the crown prince ordered Khashoggi's killing, which Riyadh has firmly rejected. Crown Prince Mohammed has said the murder was carried out without his knowledge but indicated some personal accountability when he told PBS' "Frontline” in September 2019 that "it happened under my watch."

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The death of Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist and permanent resident of the U.S., made international headlines in October 2018 when it emerged he had been slain in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul by fellow Saudis. Khashoggi, who was living in exile, had been openly critical of Crown Prince Mohammed in his columns for the Washington Post.

Khashoggi disappeared on Oct. 2, 2018, after entering the Saudi Consulate to obtain paperwork for his divorce to go forth with his pending marriage. He previously tried to obtain this paperwork in Washington, D.C., but was directed to Istanbul, instead.

Turkish prosecutors concluded that Khashoggi had been strangled or suffocated before his body was dismembered.

A 101-page U.N. report concluded that while it may be unclear who issued the decisive order to kill Khashoggi, Saudi Arabia was ultimately responsible for his death. The report cited an audio recording from the Saudi Consulate in which a voice tells Khashoggi that there is an order from Interpol to send him back to Saudi Arabia.

Last year, Saudi Arabia sentenced five people to death over his killing. However, in May Khashoggi’s family said it had forgiven his murderers, a move that paved the way for a reprieve for the five defendants sentenced to death, according to Reuters.

In May, Khashoggi’s fiancee, Hatice Cengiz, appeared to respond to the suggestion that his murderers should be forgiven by posting that “nobody has the right to pardon the killers.”

Cengiz, said in a statement on Monday that the rulings were a "complete mockery of justice" and a "farce" that the international community will not accept.

"The Saudi authorities are closing the case without the world knowing the truth of who is responsible for Jamal's murder," she wrote. "Who planned it, who ordered it, where is his body? These are the most basic and important questions that remain totally unanswered."

Saudi officials have offered varying accounts of what led to Khashoggi's death. Former Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said in 2018 that Khashoggi's death was a result of a "rogue operation."

Prosecutors said after last year's convictions that there had been no premeditated plan to kill Khashoggi and that a group of men intended to kidnap the journalist but chose to kill him because of the difficulty of moving him.

But Saudi Arabia's attorney general said in 2018 that evidence provided by Turkish investigators indicated that the "suspects in the incident had committed their act with a premeditated intention."

Charlene Gubash reported from Cairo, Egypt. Doha Madani reported from New York City. Saphora Smith from London.