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GENEVA December 26, 2019 – A UN human rights expert* expressed double shock at the death sentences handed down to five people in Saudi Arabia over the killing of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, following a secretive trial.

“The executioners were found guilty and sentenced to death. Opposed to the death sentence, this is a first shock to me. However, those who ordered the executions not only walk free but have barely been touched by the investigation and the trial. This is the second shock. That is the antithesis of justice and an unacceptable lack of respect to the victims,” said Agnes Callamard, the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary killings.

“Under international human rights law, the killing of Mr. Khashoggi was an extrajudicial execution for which the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia should be held responsible,” the expert said. “This case demands an investigation into the chain of command to identify the masterminds, as well as those who incited, allowed or turned a blind eye to the murder, such as the Crown Prince,” she said.

However, at no point did the trial consider the responsibilities of the State. “The 18 Saudi officials, present on their own in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul for more than 10 days, cleaned up the crime scene. This is obstruction of justice and a violation of the Minnesota Protocol for the investigation of arbitrary killings,” Callamard said.

“The presence of a forensic doctor enrolled in the official killing team at least 24 hours before the crime, and discussing the dismemberment of Mr. Khashoggi two hours before it actually occurred, also clearly indicates the killing was planned.”

Callamard said the Judge appeared to conclude that Mr. Khashoggi’s killing was an accident since there seemed to be no intent, but still he sentenced the defendants to the death penalty, in a clear violation to international human rights law. “The death penalty should only be imposed under the most stringent conditions for fair trial, one of which is applied to intentional murder,” she said.

The expert also criticised the conduct of the hearings which were held behind closed doors, even though none of the justifications for holding a trial in camera under international law applied.

Callamard said that the defendants had repeatedly stated during the hearings that they were obeying orders. The prosecutor publicly stated that Mr. Saud al-Qahtani, the Crown Prince’s personal adviser, had demanded the abduction of Mr. Khashoggi on the grounds he was a threat to national security. However, he was not charged and remains free. The Consul of Saudi Arabia in Istanbul Mr. Mohammad al-Otaibi, who agreed for his Consulate and office to become a crime scene, was found not guilty.

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“Impunity for the killing of a journalist commonly may reveal political repression, corruption, abuse of power, propaganda, and even international complicity; and all these elements are present in the Saudi Arabia killing of Mr. Jamal Khashoggi,” the expert said.

In June 2019, Callmard published a report following a six-month investigation into the 2018 killing of Mr. Khashoggi. The report analyzed evidence on the basis of international human rights law, and considered steps that could have prevented his murder.

(*)The UN expert: Ms Agnes Callamard, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions.

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms of the Human Rights Council that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organisation and serve in their individual capacity.

UN Human Rights country page – Saudi Arabia