Intl. reactions to Saudi scandalous verdict on Khashoggi murder

TEHRAN, Dec. 24 (MNA) – Alongside the announcement of the Saudi court verdict over the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Turkey, UK, and international rights groups and bodies condemned and criticized the court's conclusion.

Jamal Khashoggi, a columnist for the Washington Post and a critic of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, was living in a self-imposed exile in the United States where had been granted residency status. He had been sharply critical of Saudi Arabia's crown prince, Mohammad bin Salman, and the country's king, Salman of Saudi Arabia. He also opposed the Saudi Arabian-led intervention in Yemen.

Khashoggi went missing on October 2 after entering the consulate in Istanbul to obtain documents needed to marry his Turkish fiancée Hatice Cengiz. Agents of the Saudi government killed Khashoggi inside the consulate and apparently dismembered his body, which has never been found.

Audio recordings, CCTV footage, and forensic evidence all point to his murder. According to Turkish officials, Khashoggi was killed by a hit squad of 15 men who arrived from Saudi Arabia on 29 September and were present in the building on the day of Khashoggi’s disappearance, leaving shortly afterward.

US President Donald Trump announced an investigation, but he insisted that the US will not waive trade or diplomatic ties with Riyadh, regardless of the outcome.

The disappearance of Khashoggi received a fair amount of attention internationally in the past year. Turkey, in particular, believes it was premeditated murder, and after denials, Saudi Arabia ultimately admitted to the murder of the journalist.

The CIA found that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman probably ordered the operation. But Riyadh has consistently denied that the crown prince was involved. Saudi Crown Prince denied allegations that he had ordered Khashoggi's murder but said he took full responsibility for it since it was committed by people working for the Saudi government.

The first trial session of suspects in the Khashoggi murder case was held on 3 January 2019 in the Saudi capital Riyadh.

The Saudi government has characterized Khashoggi's death as a rogue operation and detained 21 suspects, charging 11 of them but Riyadh has repeatedly denied allegations that any members of the royal family were involved in the incident.

On 23 December 2019, the Saudi public prosecutor has stated that the court has sentenced five people to death over the Khashoggi case. Another three people face a total of 24 years in prison for covering up the murder and violating regulations and another ten had been questioned and released due to the lack of evidence against them.

The verdict says the Saudi investigation concluded that the killing was not premeditated and that Saudi Arabian consultant Saoud Al Qahtani was cleared of any wrongdoing.

In the immediate aftermath of the court's announcement, Saudi media was flooded with commentators saying that justice had been done while some countries and international rights groups condemned a Saudi court verdict on Khashoggi murder.

Khashoggi's son Salah accepted the verdict but others were less impressed.

Earlier this year, Salah took to Twitter to deny that a settlement had been reached between his family and the Saudi government after a source told CNN that Khashoggi's family has received millions of US dollars in cash and assets as compensation for the killing.

But Hatice Cengiz, Khashoggi's fiancée, in a tweet message on Monday said that she would never forget Khashoggi, nor his "murderers" or "those who are trying to cover up" his murder.

Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty International's Middle East Research Director, said it was a whitewash. "The verdict fails to address the Saudi authorities' involvement in this devastating crime or clarify the location of Jamal Khashoggi's remains," Amnesty said in a statement.

The human rights group said, "Only an international, independent and impartial investigation can serve justice for Jamal Khashoggi."

The Washington Post's publisher, Fred Ryan, also condemned the findings.

"The complete lack of transparency and the Saudi government's refusal to cooperate with independent investigators suggests that this was merely a sham trial," he said in a statement. "Those ultimately responsible, at the highest level of the Saudi government, continue to escape responsibility for the brutal murder of Jamal Khashoggi."

UN Special Rapporteur Agnes Callamard called Monday's court rulings "anything but justice" in a series of posts on her official Twitter account. The UN expert previously found "sufficient credible evidence" that called for the Saudi Crown Prince to be investigated.

Callamard criticized the court's conclusion that the killing was not premeditated, citing, "the presence of a forensic doctor," how the "defendants had repeatedly stated they were obeying orders" and how the consul general "took all necessary precautions to ensure there will be no eye witness present."

She added, “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."

Turkey described the verdict as "scandalous" and 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.

Turkey also said the Saudi findings left many unanswered questions.

In a written statement, Turkish foreign ministry spokesperson Hami Aksoy said the verdict was disappointing as "important aspects of the murder remain in the dark."

"It is not just a legal necessity but also moral responsibility and obligation that light is shed on this murder committed on our soil and all those responsible are punished," Aksoy added.

Aksoy also renewed Ankara's demand for judicial cooperation from Saudi authorities.

British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said in a statement: "The killing of Jamal Khashoggi was a terrible crime. Mr. Khashoggi's family deserves to see justice done for his brutal murder. Saudi Arabia must ensure all of those responsible are held to account and that such an atrocity can never happen again."

Paris-based media rights watchdog Reporters Without Borders said that justice was "trampled on" with the death sentences meted out after a trial that did not respect international standards of justice.

Even the US Department of State official told reporters after the ruling, “Today's verdicts were an important step in holding those responsible for this terrible crime accountable,” adding, “We're pressing them [Saudi Arabia] for more transparency and for holding everybody accountable."

ZZ/

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