Court overturns five death sentences over journalist Jamal Khashoggi's murder, in a final ruling condemned by his fiancee and slammed by a UN expert as a "parody of justice".

A picture of slain Saudi journalist Jamal Kashoggi, is displayed during a ceremony near the Saudi Arabia consulate in Istanbul, marking the one-year anniversary of his death. October 2, 2019.
A picture of slain Saudi journalist Jamal Kashoggi, is displayed during a ceremony near the Saudi Arabia consulate in Istanbul, marking the one-year anniversary of his death. October 2, 2019. (Lefteris Pitarakis / AP)

UN expert Agnes Callamard has dismissed a Saudi court ruling in the case of journalist Jamal Khashoggi's murder, decrying especially that top officials who allegedly ordered his killing have walked free.

"The Saudi Prosecutor performed one more act today in this parody of justice. But these verdicts carry no legal or moral legitimacy," the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions said in a tweet on Monday.

She denounced the fact that "the high-level officials who organised and embraced the execution ... have walked free from the start", and that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman "has remained well protected against any kind of meaningful scrutiny in his country".

Meanwhile, the Turkish fiancee of slain journalist Jamal Khashoggi branded the Saudi court ruling a "farce".

"The ruling handed down today in Saudi Arabia again makes a complete mockery of justice," Hatice Cengiz said in a statement posted on Twitter, adding: "the international community will not accept this farce".

Turkey slams verdict 

Turkey said the ruling failed to meet global expectations.

"The final verdict that a Saudi court issued today regarding journalist Jamal Khashoggi's execution inside the Kingdom's consulate in Istanbul fell short of meeting the expectations of Turkey and the international community," said Fahrettin Altun, Turkey's Communications Director. 

"We still don't know what happened to Khashoggi's body, who wanted him dead or if there were local collaborators, which casts doubt on the credibility of the legal proceedings in KSA. We urge the Saudi authorities to cooperate with the ongoing murder investigation in Turkey."

Court ruling

The reactions come as a Saudi court overturned five death sentences over journalist Jamal Khashoggi's murder in a final ruling that has jailed eight defendants to between seven and 20 years, according to state media.

"Five of the convicts were given 20 years in prison and another three were jailed for 7 to 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 killing, which had sparked international outcry.

The verdict came after Khashoggi's sons said in May they had "pardoned" the killers, a move condemned as a "parody of justice" by a UN expert.

The family's pardon spared the lives of five unnamed people sentenced to death over the 2018 murder in a December court ruling, which was lambasted by human rights groups after two top aides to the crown prince were exonerated.

Khashoggi – a royal family insider turned critic – was said to be killed and dismembered at the kingdom's consulate in Istanbul in October 2018, in a case that tarnished the reputation of de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Khashoggi, a 59-year-old Washington Post columnist and 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. 

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Living in exile

Khashoggi had been living in exile in the United States for about a year as the crown prince oversaw a crackdown in Saudi Arabia on human rights activists, writers and critics of the kingdom’s devastating war in Yemen.

Riyadh has described the murder as a "rogue" operation, but both the CIA and a United Nations special envoy have directly linked Prince Mohammed bin Salman to the killing, a charge the kingdom vehemently denies. 

Among those ensnared in the killing are a forensic doctor, intelligence and security officers and individuals who worked for the crown prince’s office.

Saudi Arabia’s state television aired few details about the final verdicts issued by the Riyadh Criminal Court against the eight Saudi nationals. 

The trial was widely criticised by rights groups and an independent UN investigator, who noted that no senior officials nor anyone suspected of ordering the killing was found guilty. The independence of the court was also brought into question.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies