Saudi scraps death sentences over Khashoggi murder, jails 8

Anuj Chopra - Agence France-Presse
Saudi scraps death sentences over Khashoggi murder, jails 8
This combination of pictures created on June 20, 2019, shows a file photo taken on December 15, 2014 of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi (L) during a press conference in the Bahraini capital Manama and a file photo taken on April 12, 2018 of Saudi Arabia's crown prince Mohammed bin Salman poses at La Moncloa palace in Madrid. A Saudi court overturned five death sentences over the 2018 murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a killing which sparked an international outcry, and instead jailed eight defendants to between seven and 20 years, state media reported.

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — A Saudi court on Monday overturned five death sentences over journalist Jamal Khashoggi's murder, in a final ruling that was condemned by his fiancee and slammed by a UN expert as a "parody of justice".

Eight unnamed defendants were handed jail terms of between seven and 20 years in a verdict that comes after Khashoggi's sons "pardoned" the killers in May, paving the way for a less severe punishment.

The court ruling underscores Saudi efforts to draw a line under the October 2018 murder as the kingdom seeks to reboot its international image ahead of November's G20 summit in Riyadh.

The closed-door trial of 11 suspects ended in December with five unnamed people sentenced to death and three others handed jail terms totalling 24 years over the killing.

But the family's pardon paved the way for Monday's reduced sentences, including clemency for the five people on death row.

"Five convicts were sentenced to 20 years in prison... one person was sentenced to 10 years and two others to seven years," the official Saudi Press Agency reported, citing a spokesman for the public prosecutor.

'Mockery of justice'

None of the defendants were named in what was described as the final court ruling on the murder, which triggered an international outcry and tarnished the global reputation of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Hatice Cengiz, the Turkish fiancee of the slain journalist, branded the verdict a "farce".

"The ruling handed down today in Saudi Arabia again makes a complete mockery of justice," Cengiz said on Twitter.

Agnes Callamard, the United Nations special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, slammed the ruling as "one more act today in this parody of justice". 

"These verdicts carry no legal or moral legitimacy," Callamard wrote on Twitter. "They came at the end of a process which was neither fair, nor just, or transparent."

Khashoggi — a royal family insider turned critic — was killed and dismembered at the kingdom's consulate in Istanbul in October 2018, in a case that tarnished the reputation of the de facto Saudi ruler Prince Mohammed.

A critic of the crown prince, the 59-year-old Khashoggi 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.

Turkey on Monday said the Saudi court ruling did not meet global expectations. 

"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," tweeted Fahrettin Altun, communications director at the Turkish presidency.

He urged Saudi authorities to cooperate with Turkey's own investigation into the killing.

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

'Last nail in coffin'

Callamard criticised the fact that "high-level officials" behind the murder have "walked free from the start", and that Prince Mohammed has remained protected against "any kind of meaningful scrutiny".

In December, a Saudi court exonerated two of the crown prince's top aides over the murder — deputy intelligence chief Ahmed al-Assiri and the royal court's media czar Saud al-Qahtani.

Both aides were part of Prince Mohammed's tight-knit inner circle and were formally sacked over the killing.

"Since the beginning, there was never any intent to hold those responsible to account, only repeated attempts to cover it up," Ines Osman, director of the Geneva-based MENA Rights Group, told AFP. 

"This verdict is the last nail in the coffin, saying 'the case is now closed'."

Media watchdog Reporters Without Borders also condemned the verdict, with its secretary-general Christophe Deloire telling AFP the opaque trial "did not respect the elementary principles of justice".

The Washington Post reported last year that Khashoggi's children, including his son Salah, had received multi-million-dollar homes and were being paid thousands of dollars per month by the authorities. 

Salah rejected the report, denying discussing a financial settlement with Saudi Arabia's authoritarian rulers.

In July, 20 Saudi suspects including Assiri and Qahtani went on trial in absentia in Turkey.

The former top aides were formally charged in March with "instigating the deliberate and monstrous killing, causing torment".

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As It Happens
LATEST UPDATE: September 24, 2023 - 1:02pm

Dennis Denora, a Sun.Star reporter and publisher of the Trends and Times community paper, has been shot dead by unidentified killers, according to the Davao chapter of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines.

Denora was killed near the wet market of Panabo City in Davao Del Norte on Thursday afternoon, NUJP Davao says.

The Davao del Norte Press & Radio-TV Club says in a statement that is is angered and saddened by news of the killing.

"His death awakens the anger and pains of journalists who do their job and yet are being judged by the pistol," the group also says.

September 24, 2023 - 1:02pm

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines reports four student journalists of The Democrat, student publication of University of Nueva Caceres were intimidated and subjected to surveillance by members of the Philippine Army.

"The other soldiers took their photos without consent. Democrat editor-in-chief Aila Joy Esperida protested, and told the soldiers to delete the photos. She also asked for the identity of the soldier asking for their personal data. The soldier introduced himself as Sergeant Creo," NUJP says.

It adds that students were asked what they were doing at the plaza and claimed that they will be holidng a rally. NUJP says Creo went  to say "that activists are often recruited to the New People's Army."

"The following day, Esperida received a letter signed by their barangay captain summoning her and her parents for a dialogue with the Philippine Army on Sept. 24. On Sept. 23, The Democrat photojournalist John Harvee Cabal also received a similar letter from their barangay," NUJP reports.

July 16, 2023 - 10:55am

A Mexican journalist was shot to death in a store parking lot on Saturday in the southern tourist town of Acapulco, regional authorities said, in the country's second journalist killing in a week. 

Prosecutors said they have opened an investigation for homicide with a firearm in the killing of Nelson Matus, days after the body of fellow journalist Luis Martin Sanchez was found "with signs of violence" after he had been reported missing. — AFP

July 9, 2023 - 10:33am

A regional correspondent for leading Mexican newspaper La Jornada was found dead on Saturday, a day after he went missing in the western state of Nayarit, the daily said.

"A body found in the village of Huachines... in the municipality of Tepic was identified as Luis Martin Sanchez Iniguez, 59 years old, correspondent for La Jornada," the Mexico City newspaper said on its website.

The journalist's wife, Cecilia Lopez, told investigators that she had been unaware of his whereabouts since Wednesday night, when she was in another town visiting relatives, the newspaper reported, citing local authorities.

Sanchez Iniguez's body was found on Saturday morning in a rural area near Tepic, the capital of Nayarit. Some unconfirmed local media reports said he was found wrapped in plastic bags and had a message on his chest. 

Sanchez was at home Wednesday night and spoke to his wife on the phone. — AFP

July 4, 2023 - 9:05am

A respected South African investigative journalism organisation has won a legal battle against a powerful businessman in a case that tested the country's media freedom.

The amaBhungane Centre for Investigative Journalism had earlier been barred from using documents acquired from a source in its reporting on controversial businessman Zunaid Moti -- who claimed they were stolen.

But High Court Judge Roland Sutherland on Monday set aside that order, describing it as "an abuse of the process of court". — AFP

June 25, 2023 - 5:49pm

The amaBhungane Centre for Investigative Journalism draws its name from the Zulu word for dung beetle -- a diligent species that fulfils a crucial role.

The tiny South African non-profit specialises in delving into political corruption -- "digging dung and fertilizing democracy," its editor-in-chief, Sam Sole, said with a chuckle in a recent interview with AFP.

Sole, a lean and bearded 61-year-old, has had little opportunity for laughter of late.

His organisation has been running a lengthy investigation into a powerful businessman accused of unscrupulous business dealings, including with President Emmerson Mnangagwa of neighbouring Zimbabwe.

The probe has unleashed a legal and financial headache for the centre as it faces a full-throated challenge from Zunaid Moti, the tycoon in question.

The case reaches a key stage on Tuesday when the High Court will hear Moti's objections that the investigation is based on stolen documents which should be handed over. 

The outcome has huge importance for whistleblowers who until now have been largely shielded from identification by the law. — AFP

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