RIYADH, September 7: A Saudi court on Monday overturned five death sentences over journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s murder in a final ruling that jailed eight defendants to between seven and 20 years, state media reported.
The ruling comes after Khashoggi’s sons announced in May that they had “pardoned” the killers, paving the way for a less severe punishment in a case that triggered an international outcry.
The verdict, which drew fresh condemnation from campaigners, underscores Saudi efforts to draw a line under the October 2018 murder as the kingdom seeks to reboot its international image ahead of November’s G20 summit in Riyadh.
“Five of the convicts were given 20 years in prison and another three were jailed for 7-10 years,” the official Saudi Press Agency said, citing a spokesman for the public prosecutor.
None of the defendants were named in what was described as the final court ruling on the murder, which tarnished the global reputation of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Khashoggi — a royal family insider turned critic — was killed and dismembered at the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul in October 2018, in a case that tarnished the reputation of the de facto ruler Prince Mohammed.
Khashoggi, a 59-year-old critic of the crown prince, was strangled and his body cut into pieces by a 15-man Saudi squad inside the consulate, according to Turkish officials. His remains have not been found.
Riyadh has described the murder as a “rogue” operation, but both the CIA and a United Nations special envoy have directly linked Prince Mohammed to the killing, a charge the kingdom vehemently denies.
Agnes Callamard, the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, slammed Monday’s ruling as “one more act today in this parody of justice”.
“These verdicts carry no legal or moral legitimacy,” Callamard wrote on Twitter. “They came at the end of a process which was neither fair, nor just, or transparent.”
That view was echoed by other human rights campaigners.
“Since the beginning, there was never any intent to hold those responsible to account, only repeated attempts to cover it up,” Ines Osman, director of the Geneva-based MENA Rights Group, told AFP.
“This verdict is the last nail in the coffin, saying ‘the case is now closed’.”
In December, a Saudi court exonerated two of the crown prince’s top aides over the murder — deputy intelligence chief Ahmed al-Assiri and the royal court’s media czar Saud al-Qahtani.
Both aides were part of Prince Mohammed’s tight-knit inner circle and were formally sacked over the killing.
Five unnamed people were sentenced to death in the December ruling while three others were handed jail terms totalling 24 years over the killing.
But the family’s pardon paved the way for Monday’s reduced sentences, including sparing the lives of the five unnamed people sentenced to death.
The Washington Post reported last year that Khashoggi’s children, including his son Salah, had received multi-million-dollar homes and were being paid thousands of dollars per month by authorities.
Salah rejected the report, denying discussing a financial settlement with Saudi Arabia’s authoritarian rulers. (AFP)