Human Rights Groups and Turkey have come out to slam a verdict by a Saudi High court absolving crown prince Mohammed Bin Salman of any wrong doing in the 2018 murder of Wasshington post journalist and fierce MBS critic, Jamal Khashoggi.
The Crown Prince’s right hand man, Saud al-Qahtani, widely regarded as the mastermind of the operation was also cleared by the court of all involvement on Monday, according to a government organized news conference in the State capital, Riyadh.
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Prosecutors said there would be no charges brought against him because “no evidence” existed.
At the time of Khashoggi’s brutal murder Qahtani was Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s senior adviser, so clearing him of wrong doing automatically clears MBS of wrong doing because he was Bin Salman’s right hand man.
“The investigation showed that the killing was not premeditated … The decision was taken at the spur of the moment,” Saudi Deputy Public Prosecutor Shalaan al-Shalaan said, a verdict contradicting the findings of a United Nations and United States-led investigation that found that Mohammed Bin Salman, Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia gave the order for the journalist’s killing.
Khashoggi, was killed inside Saudi Arabia’s consulate in the Turkish city of Istanbul by a team of Saudi agents when he went to process documents for his planned marriage. He never left the consulate alive as he was drugged and dismembered inside before his remains were deposited in a yet to be found place.
The US CIA, Turkey, the UN, the EU all accused the Saudi Arabian government headed by Mohammed Bin Salman of being behind the gruesome murder, and after weeks of denail, Saudi Arabia later accepted they had carried out the murder.
The Saudi authorities said it was the result of a “rogue operation” and put 11 unnamed individuals on trial, but denied MBS was aware of the operation.
The Saudi prosecutor’s office on Monday said a total of 31 people were investigated in connection with the killing, and that 11 people were charged. Three were handed jail terms totalling 24 years and the rest were acquitted. None of the defendants’ names was immediately released by the court.
Ahmed Benchemsi, spokesman for Human Rights Watch, told Al Jazeera that the trial was “all but satisfactory”.
The case was “shrouded in secrecy since the beginning, and it’s still … until now … We do not know the identities of those masked perpetrators, we don’t know the specific charge levelled against who exactly,” Benchemsi said.
“Saudi prosecutors did not even attempt to investigate the upper levels of this crime, and whether they played a role in ordering the killing, including Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman,” he added.
Agnes Callamard, the UN special rapporteur on summary executions, said the sentence “is anything but justice”.
“Under international human rights law, the killing of Khashoggi was an extrajudicial execution for which the state of Saudi Arabia is responsible,” she wrote on Twitter.
“Bottom line: the hit-men are guilty, sentenced to death. The masterminds not only walk free. They have barely been touched by the investigation and the trial. That is the antithesis of Justice. It is a mockery,” said Callamard, who does not speak for the UN but reports her findings to it.
Christophe Deloire, the Secretary General of Paris-based media rights watchdog Reporters Without Borders said 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 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, adding: “We still expect a full accounting.”
Turkey, responding to the verdict said those responsible for the murder had been granted immunity.
“Those who dispatched a death squad to Istanbul on a private jet … and sought to sweep this murder under the rug have been granted immunity,” President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s top press aide, Fahrettin Altun, wrote on Twitter.