Khashoggi murder: Saudi Arabia scrutinised over claim it hauled 11 suspects to court

Saudi coroner accused of overseeing dismemberment of body said to be ‘living comfortably in villa’ in Jeddah

Borzou Daragahi
Thursday 03 January 2019 15:41 GMT
Netflix pulls Hasan Minhaj Patriot Act after Saudi Arabia complains about Jamal Khashoggi jokes

Eleven of the suspects accused in the kidnapping, murder, and dismemberment of journalist Jamal Khashoggi were brought before a judge in the first criminal court of Riyadh on Thursday, Saudi state media reported.

There was no independent confirmation of the claim, and no photographs released of courtroom proceedings. None of the 11 suspects were named, in accordance with what Saudis have described as legal requirements.

Saudi media reported that during the hearing, the defendants requested and were granted copies of the indictment and time to respond to the accusations.

“The public prosecutor continues to investigate the case with the rest of the individuals in custody in relation to this crime,” Saudi platform al-Arabiya reported.

But doubts linger about the Saudi handling of the Khashoggi murder amid calls by human rights advocates for an independent international investigation.

“Those that condemned Riyadh’s conduct are probably not going to take this trial as seriously as Riyadh might want – not unless there is international involvement, which I doubt very much Riyadh is going to accept,” said HA Hellyer, senior fellow at the Atlantic Council and Royal United Services Institute in London.

The high-profile slaying of the middle-aged journalist and father at the hands of a Saudi hit team from Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman’s personal entourage has brought the issue of justice and impunity within the oil-rich Arabian Peninsula dictatorship to the forefront.

Despite Saudi claims that it was vigorously pursuing the murderers, seeking the death penalty against five of the suspects, a book by Turkish newspaper journalists claims that Salah al-Tubaigy, the Saudi coroner accused of overseeing the dismemberment of Khashoggi’s body, is living comfortably in a “villa” in the Red Sea city of Jeddah with his family while keeping a low profile.

Saudi human rights activists and dissidents arrested are often named by their families or legal defenders. It remained unclear which lawyers the suspects had retained, though a statement issued by the Saudi prosecutor claimed the 11 suspects attended the hearing with their legal representatives.

Saudi prosecutor general Saud al-Mojeb was handpicked for his role by the kingdom’s de facto ruler, the 33-year-old crown prince, whom western intelligence agencies and the US Senate have accused of being behind the murder of the 59-year-old Khashoggi on 2 October.

Mr Mojeb first said in November he was seeking the death penalty for five of the suspects, an attempt to quell global uproar over the killing, which saw the Washington Post columnist murdered in his own nation’s consulate in Turkey after apparently getting caught up in Prince Mohammad’s quest for power and drive to silence dissenting voices.

Three months after the murder, the Khashoggi case continues to colour Saudi Arabia’s international relations.

This week the film-streaming service Netflix confirmed that it had pulled a stand-up comedy show by US entertainer Hasan Minhaj, a veteran of the satirical news programme The Daily Show, after pressure from Riyadh. The show was critical of Saudi Arabia’s role in the Khashoggi murder. It remains available outside Saudi Arabia and on YouTube.

“Saudi Arabia’s censorship of Netflix using a cyber-crime law comes as no surprise, and is further proof of a relentless crackdown on freedom of expression in the kingdom,” Samah Hadid, Middle East director of campaigns at Amnesty International, said in a statement.

“Since Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman came to power in June 2017, many outspoken human rights defenders, activists and critics have been arbitrarily detained, or unjustly sentenced to lengthy prison terms simply for exercising their right to freedom of expression.”

Earlier this week, Turkish media published surveillance camera footage showing what appeared to be the suspects in the Khashoggi murder carrying bags into the residence of the Saudi consul general to Istanbul, Mohammad al-Otaiba, on the day of the murder.

The role and whereabouts of Mr Otaiba, who departed Istanbul two weeks after the murder, remain unclear. He was the official who famously gave Reuters a tour of the consulate where Khashoggi was butchered in an attempt to absolve Saudi officials.

Turkey has demanded that the suspects in the killing be extradited, but Saudi officials insist the men be tried in the kingdom. On Thursday, the prosecutor general reiterated demands that Turkey hand over evidence in the case.

“No response has been received to date and the public prosecutor’s office is still waiting for an answer,” the statement said.

Ankara officials believe the ongoing trial is an attempt to whitewash ultimate culpability in the murder, which Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said rests with the highest echelons of power in the kingdom. “Unfortunately the Saudi legal system is very opaque and I highly doubt any measures taken by their justice system will satisfy Turkish officials,” Yusuf Erim, an analyst for Turkey’s TRT World state television told The Independent. “The two major questions of who gave the order and where is the body still remain unanswered, and possibly putting to death key suspects that may have insight into this mystery will only place more doubt on the intent of the Saudis.”

Last month a senior Turkish official confirmed to The Independent that he had heard audio recordings capturing the final moments of Khashoggi’s life as he was bound, strangled and slaughtered by a gaggle of men half his age.

“I don’t think Riyadh has recovered from all the international condemnation that occurred as a result of this case,” Mr Hellyer said.

“It’s not just about the murder itself – which is a crime of intense proportions in and of itself – but also the initial attempts at covering up the crime and the role of extremely senior Saudi officials in it.”

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