Saudi scapegoats sentenced

Eight defendants have been sentenced to prison terms between 7 and 20 years for the murder of Jamal Ahmad Khashoggi, following a sham trial conducted in secret.

Khashoggi was a Saudi Arabian columnist for The Washington Post who was assassinated at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on 2 October 2018 by agents of the Saudi government.

The Saudi court overturned five death sentences previously announced in the case although the defendants are not named

Khashoggi’s sons – who live in Saudi Arabia – said in May they had “pardoned” the killers, a move condemned as a “parody of justice” by a UN expert.

Two defendants who are top aides to the Crown Prince were cleared by the court late last year although prosecutors believe they were linked to the killing.

In June 2019, following a six-month investigation, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights released a 101-page report holding the State of Saudi Arabia responsible for the “premeditated extrajudicial execution” of Khashoggi.

Interpol issued red notices – asking police worldwide to locate and provisionally arrest a person pending extradition – for 20 people regarding the killing of the Saudi journalist.

Khashoggi was lured into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to obtain a Saudi document stating that he was divorced, so that he could marry his Turkish fiancée, Hatice Cengiz.

Despite reassuring friends that he would not face any problems inside, he gave Cengiz two mobile phones and told her to call an adviser to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan if he did not come back out.

She ultimately waited for more than 10 hours outside the consulate and returned the following morning when Khashoggi had still not reappeared.

Cengiz called the ruling “a complete mockery of justice.”

Saudi officials said the journalist was killed in a “rogue operation” by a team of agents sent to persuade him to return to the kingdom, while Turkish officials said the agents acted on orders from the highest levels of the Saudi government.

Turkish officials said that a team of 15 Saudi agents, assisted by three intelligence officers, arrived in Istanbul in the days before the murder, and that the group removed the security cameras and surveillance footage from the consulate before Khashoggi’s arrival.

Istanbul’s chief prosecutor, Irfan Fidan, said that the journalist was suffocated almost as soon as entered the consulate, and that his body was dismembered and destroyed.

In November 2018, the CIA concluded that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman ordered Khashoggi’s assassination.

Khashoggi was a prominent Saudi journalist who covered major stories, including the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the rise of the late al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden, for various Saudi news organisations.

For decades, the 59-year-old was close to the Saudi royal family and also served as an adviser to the government, but he fell out of favor and went into self-imposed exile in the US in 2017.

From there, he wrote a monthly column in The Washington Post in which he criticized the policies of Mohammed bin Salman, the son of King Salman and Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler.

In his first column for the Post in September 2017, Khashoggi said he had feared being arrested in an apparent crackdown on dissent overseen by the prince.

The case is a testimony that the rich and powerful live by a different set of rules than the rest of us.

Khashoggi’s killing was internationally condemned and caused a diplomatic crisis between Saudi Arabia and some of its closest allies, including the US.

After the murder was confirmed by the Saudis, President Donald Trump described it as the “worst cover-up in history” but he defended US ties to the kingdom, a key trading partner despite bipartisan calls from Congress to join other countries that have canceled weapons sales to Saudi Arabia.

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