An apparent bid by Saudi Arabia to draw a line under the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi by announcing five death sentences has attracted scepticism - and an ambiguous statement from the UK foreign minister.
According to a statement by the Saudi public prosecutor yesterday, the Riyadh Criminal Court passed death sentences on five individuals after nine court hearings involving 11 accused. The Saudi authorities claimed the murder, in the country's Istanbul consulate, was not premeditated. The public prosecutor will review the court’s decision and decide whether it will file an appeal at the Appellate Court, state news agency SPA reported.
Agnes Callamard, the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, who last year investigated Khashoggi's killing, described the verdicts as ’the antithesis of justice’. Writing in the Washington Post, Callamard said the Saudi investigation and trial had been 'grossly inadequate, failing to meet even minimal international standards'.
Executing five hit men would silence key witnesses while allowing the apparent masterminds to walk walk free, Callamard said. 'This is exactly what impunity looks like, and it must be denounced. Anyone who cares about freedom of the press - governments, as well as members of the public - must denounce this travesty until an actual impartial investigation holds those at the highest level responsible.'
Callamard noted that the trial was held in secrecy, which would not have been possible without the complicity of governments who attended and agreed to secrecy. 'Judging by their participation in several recent events hosted by the kingdom, it is clear that the government officials, chief executives and investors are hoping to move on, given the wealth and geopolitical prominence of Saudi Arabia,' she said.
In the UK's official reaction, Dominic Raab, the foreign secretary, said: 'The killing of Jamal Khashoggi was a terrible crime. Mr Khashoggi’s family deserve 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.'
The statement added that the UK condemns the use of the death penalty in all circumstances as a matter of principle.
Earlier this year the International Bar Association's Human Rights Institute raised concerns about Saudi Arabia's use of the death penalty, predicting that the toll in 2019 would exceed all previous reported totals.