RIYADH, Saudi Arabia - A court in Saudi Arabia on Monday sentenced five people to death for the killing of Washington Post columnist and royal family critic Jamal Khashoggi, who was murdered in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul last year by a team of Saudi agents.
Saudi Arabia's state-run Al-Ekhbariya TV channel reported that three others were sentenced to prison. All can appeal the verdicts.
The Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, had drawn international condemnation for the killing because several Saudi agents involved worked directly for him. The kingdom denies that Prince Mohammed had any involvement or knowledge of the operation.
A file photo dated Oct. 25, 2018 shows a man lighting up a candle during a demonstration, organized for the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, in front of the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, Turkey. (Photo by Muhammed Enes Yildirim/Anadolu Age
State TV also reported the Saudi attorney general's investigation showed that the crown prince's former top adviser, Saud al-Qahtani, had no proven involvement in the killing. Al-Qahtani, however, has been sanctioned by the United States for his alleged role in the operation.
The court also ruled that the Saudi consul-general in Istanbul at the time, Mohammed al-Otaibi, was not guilty. He was released from prison after the verdicts were announced, according to state TV.
After holding nine sessions, the trial concluded that there was no previous intent by those found guilty to murder, according to state TV.
The trials of the accused were carried out in near total secrecy, though a handful of diplomats, including from Turkey, as well as members of Khashoggi's family were allowed to attend the sessions. In total, 11 people were on trial for Khashoggi's death in the kingdom.
The verdicts were read by Shaalan al-Shaalan, a spokesperson from the attorney general's office, and broadcast on state TV. No names were given for those found guilty. The attorney general's office also said it is looking into the verdicts, which were issued by Riyadh's criminal court, to see whether to move ahead in the appellate court.
The three suspects in the case who face prison time were sentenced to a total of 24 years, but no individual breakdown for each person was given. Another three who were on trial were released after being found not guilty, and several others who were investigated were also released.
The killing had shocked the world and drawn condemnation from the international community, including the United Nations.
Khashoggi had walked into his country’s consulate in Istanbul on that morning in October 2018 to collect documents that would allow him to wed his Turkish fiancée, Hatice Cengiz, who waited for him outside.
He never walked out and his body was never found.
Agnes Callamard, a U.N. special rapporteur who authored an inquiry into Khashoggi's killing, later said the search for justice must not be left to the Saudi judicial system, which is “so vulnerable to political interference.”
Callamard reacted to the verdicts announced from Riyadh by tweeting that "the travesty of investigation, prosecution and justice continues"in Saudi Arabia.
President Donald Trump condemned the killing, and his administration sanctioned 17 Saudis suspected of being involved, though not the crown prince. Trump, however, has steadfastly resisted calls by members of his own party for a tougher response and has defended maintaining good relations with Saudi Arabia, framing its importance as a major buyer of U.S. military equipment and weapons and saying this creates American jobs.
Meanwhile, numerous critics of the Saudi crown prince remain imprisoned and face trial for their acts of dissent.
Khashoggi's killing has tarnished the Saudi crown prince's reputation internationally though he is still hugely popular at home. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia has over the past months launched efforts to open up the notoriously closed-off country to tourists and travelers from around the world as part of a push by the crown prince to change perceptions of the kingdom.