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.
Saudi scraps death sentences over Khashoggi murder, jails 8
Anuj Chopra (Agence France-Presse) - September 8, 2020 - 8:19am

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".

As It Happens
LATEST UPDATE: September 8, 2020 - 8:08am

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 8, 2020 - 8:08am

Turkey on Monday said a Saudi court ruling overturning five death sentences in the 2018 murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi failed to meet expectations.

"The final verdict that a Saudi court issued today regarding journalist Jamal Khashoggi's execution inside the Kingdom's consulate in Istanbul fell short of meeting the expectations of Turkey and the international community," Fahrettin Altun, spokesman for the Turkish presidency, wrote on Twitter. — AFP

September 8, 2020 - 8:07am

A UN expert on Monday dismissed a Saudi court ruling in the case of journalist Jamal Khashoggi's murder, decrying especially that top officials who allegedly ordered his killing had walked free.

"The Saudi Prosecutor performed one more act today in this parody of justice. But these verdicts carry no legal or moral legitimacy," UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Agnes Callamard said in a tweet.

She denounced the fact that "the high-level officials who organised and embraced the execution ... have walked free from the start", and that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Ben Salman "has remained well protected against any kind of meaningful scrutiny in his country". — AFP

December 25, 2019 - 2:08pm

A Saudi court verdict exonerating the crown prince's top aides over the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi has been condemned globally as a travesty of justice, but won the backing of key ally Washington.

Five unnamed people were sentenced to death while three others were handed jail terms totalling 24 years over the killing of the Washington Post columnist last year at Saudi Arabia's consulate in Istanbul.

The verdict underscores Saudi efforts to turn the page on one of its worst ever diplomatic crises, which tarnished powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's global reputation and sparked intense scrutiny of the kingdom's human rights record. — AFP

December 15, 2019 - 12:00pm

ACT-CIS (Anti-Crime and Terrorism Community Involvement and Support) party-list is pushing for passage of a bill that will establish minimum wage levels for journalists and the creation of a Commission on Press Freedom and Media Security, it says in a release.

"The Maguindanao Massacre and the trial brought to the forefront of national consciousness the high-risk lives of journalists, especially those entrenched in conflict areas like Maguindanao, where mostly political warlords hold sway over the lives of residents," says Rep. Jocelyn Tulfo.

Tulfo says HB 2476 also provides for death, disability, and SSS/GSIS benefits, as well as reimbursement for medical expenses up to P100,000.

"For media firms that hire and comply, HB 2476 has an allowable deduction provision equivalent to 25% of the benefits paid to their media workers," she says.

November 19, 2019 - 3:28pm

The Quezon City procecutor's office has junked a libel complaint that Agrarian Reform Secretary John Castriciones filed against Rappler executive editor Maria Ressa and reporter Rambo Talabong, the news website reports.

"The statements made by respondents in their online website are not in itself defamatory," Rappler quotes Assistant City Prosector Arnel Pabellar as saying in his resolution dated September 10.

Castriciones filed the complaint in 2017, while he was still an undersecretary of the Department of the Interior and Local Government.

"A public official, more especially an elected one, should not be onion-skinned… Always, he is expected to act and serve with the highest degree of responsibility, integrity, loyalty, and efficiency, and shall remain accountable for his counduct to the people," Pabellar says in his resolution, quoting the Supreme Court in Yabut v. Office of the Ombudsman.

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