A Saudi court on Monday overturned five death sentences over dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s killing, a final ruling in the case that saw the Washington Post columnist killed and dismembered by a Saudi hit squad.
The court handed 20-year sentences to five people and three others were sentenced to between seven to 10 years, state media reported. The eight convicted were not identified.
The verdict comes after Khashoggi’s sons said in May they had “pardoned” the killers, a move condemned as a “parody of justice” by a UN expert.
Khashoggi went missing on October 2, 2018, while visiting the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Turkish authorities later revealed he was murdered inside the consulate by a Saudi assassination team. His body has never been found.
The trial was widely criticised by rights groups and an independent UN investigator, who noted no senior officials nor anyone suspected of ordering the killing was found guilty. The independence of the court was also brought into question.
Khalil Jahshan, from the Arab Center in Washington, DC, noted the prosecutor’s office said the announcement “closes the case forever”.
“Most importantly, where is the body of Jamal Khashoggi? With these sentences, I assume they have found out what happened to his body,” Jahshan, a family friend, told Al Jazeera.
“The whole verdict seems to me to have been manipulated. According to legal practice in Saudi Arabia, the family has a right to commute any sentence, and the family has issued such a declaration – most probably under duress. I don’t think it was done freely, knowing the family.”
Khashoggi, 59, wrote critically of the Saudi government.
Questions remain over Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s (MBS) role in ordering the killing, with several western intelligence agencies alluding he had knowledge of the operation beforehand. MBS has denied any knowledge.
The Saudi government called the assassination a “rogue operation” after repeatedly denying any involvement for weeks.
Agnes Callamard – the United Nations’s special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions – also found “credible evidence” that Prince Mohammedand other senior Saudi officials were liable for the killing in an investigative report published in June 2019.
Istanbul prosecutor indicts Saudi suspects for Khashoggi killing
The assassination of Khashoggi – a US resident – prompted a worldwide backlash against Saudi Arabia and caused lasting damage to MBS’s image in the international arena.
Ankara’s ties with Riyadh came under intense strain after the journalist’s killing as he was an acquaintance of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
In March, Turkish prosecutors indicted 20 Saudi nationals over Khashoggi’s murder, including two former senior aides to Prince Mohammed, the kingdom’s de facto ruler.
According to the indictment, Saudi Arabia’s former deputy intelligence chief Ahmed al-Assiri is accused of establishing a hit team and planning the murder.
Saud al-Qahtani, a former royal court and media adviser, is accused of instigating and leading the operation by giving orders to the hit team. Other suspects are mainly Saudi military and intelligence officers who allegedly took part.
Among those ensnared in the killing are a forensic doctor, intelligence and security officers, and individuals who worked for the crown prince’s office.
Al Jazeera and news agencies