Saudi Arabia: IBAHRI condemns non-transparent trial of Jamal Khashoggi killers

Saturday 12 September 2020

The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) condemns the secret trial that led to the final verdict against the unnamed defendants who killed prominent dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi (pictured) at the Saudi Arabian Consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, on 2 October 2018.

Following the extra-judicial murder, a team of experts led by the United Nations-appointed Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Dr Agnes Callamard, visited Turkey and was given direct access to the evidence obtained by the Turkish authorities, including secret tape recordings that exposed the planning and execution. The team was allowed to listen to the tapes but was denied access to the Saudi Arabian Consulate in Istanbul where the murder took place. Dr Callamard's subsequent report for the UN Human Rights Council reached a decisive conclusion: ‘There is no indication under international law that this crime could be qualified under any other way but as a state killing.’

IBAHRI Director Baroness Helena Kennedy QC, a member of the expert team that accompanied Dr Callamard, commented: ‘The evidence accessed by the UN team exposed the full brutality of Mr Khashoggi’s murder and dismemberment. This was a planned killing, executed by a highly trained team acting under the command of senior figures in the Saudi Government. The secret trial which took place in Saudi Arabia in no way conformed to the standards of due process and was a cover for those who bore the real culpability for this egregious assassination. It was a punishment killing of a journalist who dared to speak critically of the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia and expose his human rights abuses. Having secured the purchase of the forgiveness of Mr Khashoggi’s son, the announcement of greatly reduced sentences for the convicted is a final act of contempt for justice by the Crown Prince, who has no respect for the rule of law.’

On 7 September 2020, the Riyadh Criminal Court overturned five death sentences of those convicted of the murder of Mr Khashoggi, in a ruling that sentenced a total of eight unidentified defendants to between seven and 20 years imprisonment. The Prosecutor’s Office stated that the announcement of the sentences ‘closes the case forever’. As an advocate of the total abolition of the death penalty, the IBAHRI notes the commuting of the death penalties for five of the condemned.

The Saudi authorities continued to deny any knowledge of Mr Khashoggi’s fate for more than two weeks after his murder. Reports state that first they refused to admit the murder had taken place, then changed their account initially saying there had been a fight in the consulate and then claiming it was ‘a rogue operation’. Turkish investigators were not permitted to enter the consulate for two weeks. Reports reveal the Saudis only allowed the investigators entry after a team of 15 Saudi agents undertook a professional clean-up operation that destroyed evidence. Dr Callamard commented, ‘by the time they were able to collect some evidence, there was nothing there, not even DNA evidence of Mr Khashoggi having been there.’

IBAHRI Co-Chair and former Justice of the High Court of Australia (1996–2006), the Hon Michael Kirby AC CMG commented: ‘The killing of Mr Khashoggi in shameful disrespect for the municipal law of Turkey, international law and the norms of civilized states in a consular mission of Saudi Arabia was an audacious heinous assassination. The team of experts with access to some of the evidence found that this was a premeditated extra-judicial killing perpetuated by Saudi officials. The trial and the final verdict make a mockery of justice. Those who ordered the killing have sent an unambiguous chilling message to others entertaining thoughts of dissent that “you can be easily eliminated without trace.” The absence of a fair trial demonstrates that the Saudi authorities are no respecters of due process and the rule of law.’

The entire trial proceedings that led to the 7 September verdict took place behind closed doors with journalists and members of the public barred from attending. Requests from the International Bar Association and other international organisations to monitor the proceedings were ignored. Identities of the 11 defendants have not been disclosed, casting serious doubt on the motives behind the trial. In reaction to the verdict, Dr Callamard criticised the trial for being ‘neither fair, nor just or transparent,’ therefore carrying ‘no legal or moral legitimacy’.

IBAHRI Co-Chair, and immediate past Secretary-General of the Swedish Bar Association, Anne Ramberg Dr jur hc stated: ‘Justice has not been served for Mr Khashoggi. Nobody suspected of ordering the killing has been tried, much less convicted. It is an outrage that Mr Khashoggi’s body has not been produced, and likely disposed of in the barbaric manner reported. The pre-meditated murder of Mr Khashoggi is a serious international crime with concrete evidence against senior officials of the Saudi government. The international community must send a clear message to the Saudi government that the silencing of Mr Khashoggi will not be tolerated and that this case is far from being resolved. Democratic states should voice their concerns and invoke universal jurisdiction to prosecute the perpetrators.’

In July 2020, Turkey opened its own trial proceedings into the death of the Mr Khashoggi, accusing 20 Saudi citizens in absentia. The trial is ongoing and the IBAHRI will continue to monitor developments.


Notes to the Editor

  1. View related IBAHRI items on Saudi Arabia:
  2. The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI), an autonomous and financially independent entity, works to promote, protect and enforce human rights under a just rule of law, and to preserve the independence of the judiciary and the legal profession worldwide.
  3. The International Bar Association (IBA), the global voice of the legal profession, is the foremost organisation for international legal practitioners, bar associations and law societies. Established in 1947, shortly after the creation of the United Nations, it was born out of the conviction that an organisation made up of the world's bar associations could contribute to global stability and peace through the administration of justice.
  4. Follow the IBAHRI on Twitter here: twitter.com/IBAHRI

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