Saudi Arabia's issuance of death sentences for the those it says were involved in the murder of columnist Jamal Khashoggi was condemned by a UN human rights expert yesterday who called it an "antithesis of justice".
UN Special Rapporteur Agnes Callamard said in a statement yesterday that "The executioners were found guilty and sentenced to death. Opposed to the death sentence, this is a first shock to me." She added:
However, those who ordered the executions not only walk free but have barely been touched by the investigation and the trial. This is the second shock.
Khashoggi, a prominent Saudi journalist and columnist for the Washington Post who held an influential position in the Saudi press before going into self-exile for criticising the kingdom's recent policies, disappeared on 2 October following his visit to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. After weeks of speculation and investigations by both the Turkish and Saudi sides, the former discovered that Saudi agents murdered him for his views, while the latter attempted to cover up its involvement.
The murder was initially linked back to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman through audio recordings obtained by Turkish intelligence, but he has only admitted responsibility for the incident taking place under his watch while denying any direct involvement in it himself.
A court in the kingdom then issued the sentences against five of the agents involved in the murder, resulting in further international condemnation due to the crown prince himself not being held to account or investigated. Callamard labelled it "the antithesis of justice and an unacceptable lack of respect to the victims," stating that the murder was an extrajudicial execution which Saudi Arabia is guilty of and must be held responsible under international law.
"This case demands an investigation into the chain of command to identify the masterminds, as well as those who incited, allowed, or turned a blind eye to the murder, such as the Crown Prince," insisted Callamard. "The 18 Saudi officials, present on their own in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul for more than 10 days, cleaned up the crime scene. This is obstruction of justice and a violation of the Minnesota Protocol for the investigation of arbitrary killings."
She also noted the presence of a forensic doctor in the team which arrived at the consulate to kill Khashoggi prior to the incident, stressing that it "also clearly indicates the killing was planned." Despite it being planned, she pointed out, the Saudi judge who issued the sentence did so inaccurately by claiming that the murder was not intended while also sentencing the five to death, making such a ruling a violation of international law.