Ayear after Jamal Khashoggi, Saudi Arabia’s dissident journalist and columnist of The Washington Post, was done to death in October 2018, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman may have cleared himself of the charge of feet-dragging. Five of the accused have been sentenced to death and three others awarded a combined 24 years in prison.
On the face of it, they have met their comeuppance for a hideous murder that has had a bearing on the standing of royalty. The Crown Prince’s father, King Salman, ordered a shake-up of top security posts after Khashoggi’s death, but the Saudi investigation has been widely criticised as a cover-up operation designed to shield the heir to the throne and those around him from allegations of wrongdoing.
There is a cloud of suspicion over the desert sands, a suspicion that is likely to transcend the borders of Riyadh and impact its relations with the comity of nations. The killing had stunned Saudi Arabia’s western allies, plunging the kingdom into its worst diplomatic crisis since the 9/11 catastrophe. It shall not be easy for the palace to dispel the dominant impression that the court in Riyadh has exonerated the Crown Prince’s inner circle of involvement.
Small wonder that despite the eight convictions, Monday’s verdict has almost readily been banned as “mockery of justice”. The findings fly in the face of the conclusion of the CIA and other western intelligence agencies that Crown Prince Mohammed directly ordered Khashoggi’s assassination, an allegation the kingdom has strenuously denied.
There is extensive evidence showing that a 15-man hit squad had arrived in Istanbul with an intention to kill Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate there. The calculated malevolence, allegedly at the behest of the Crown Prince, was much too palpable. The immediate response of the UN special rapporteur, Agnès Callamard, is a searing indictment of the Saudi justice system, occasionally medieval as it is.
As the “author” of the inquiry into Khashoggi’s death, she was barred from access to the secretive trial. The murder, she said, was a “premeditated crime” and the trial was “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 tweeted.
“Bottom line: the hitmen 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. She has been emphatic on the point that while the ‘killers’ have been sentenced to death, the choreographed judgment “won’t detoxify Saudi Arabia”.
Considering the enormity of the crime, an independent international investigation into the journalist’s death was direly imperative. With Amnesty International describing the outcome as a “whitewash which brings neither justice nor truth”, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, supposedly the heir apparent, remains under a dense cloud.