A Saudi court sentenced five people to death Monday for the 2018 murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at Saudi Arabia’s Istanbul consulate. The court found 11 people guilty overall for playing a role in the murder, but the two senior most officials involved were cleared because of “insufficient evidence,” the public prosecutor said. The operation to assassinate Khashoggi, a critic of the Saudi government, is believed to have been orchestrated at the highest levels of the country’s government, including the country’s de facto leader Mohammed bin Salman, sparking a global outcry. As details emerged last year, the killing strained Saudi’s relations with political allies and financial ties with the country’s business partners. The Saudi prosecutor, however, declared the brazen hit a “rogue operation,” essentially absolving Riyadh of blame for the plot that involved dismembering Khashoggi in the consulate.
In addition to the five death sentences, three individuals were sentenced to a total of 24 years for “covering up this crime and violating the law.” A total of three others were found not guilty. “The verdicts came after a trial in Riyadh’s criminal court that lasted nearly a year and was largely shrouded in secrecy, with court sessions closed to the general public,” the Washington Post notes. “Diplomats from the United States, Turkey and several other countries were allowed to attend but told not to reveal details of the trial.”
Saudi Arabia first denied any involvement in Khashoggi’s disappearance after he entered the country’s consulate in Istanbul in October 2018 and never reemerged, but soon backtracked.. Despite disputes with the Saudi regime, Khashoggi a Saudi journalist, who was a frequent contributor to the Washington Post, was lured to the consulate in order to get documentation for his upcoming marriage. A team of Saudi agents traveled to Turkey to carry out the assassination and Khashoggi’s body has never been found. Surveillance video later showed him entering the consulate but never leaving and audio tapes caught the 59-year-old’s final moments