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US State Department criticises sham Khashoggi murder trial

Demonstrators demand justice for missing Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi [AFP/Getty]

Date of publication: 12 March, 2020

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The United States State Department said the Khashoggi trial exemplifies Saudi Arabia's 'lack of transparency'.

The US State Department slammed Riyadh's handling of journalist Jamal Khashoggi's murder Wednesday, citing it as an example of Saudi Arabia's lack of transparency.

"We have reported a lack of transparency in Saudi Arabia. The Khashoggi trail is an example of that," senior State Department human rights official Robert Destro told reporters in comments cited by UrduPoint News.

Destro said Washington will continue to take significant actions against Saudi Arabia over the the murder of Khashoggi, who was a mild critic of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Khashoggi, a contributor for The Washington Post and a US resident, was killed on 2 October 2018 while obtaining paperwork at Saudi Arabia's consulate in Istanbul ahead of his wedding.

Turkish officials say a 15-man Saudi squad strangled him and cut his body into pieces. His remains were never found. Riyadh insists he was killed in a "rogue" operation.

A Saudi court verdict in December exonerated the crown prince's top aides over the murder and sentenced five unnamed people to death.

But the killing brought unprecedented international condemnation and is likely to remain a headache for Saudi Arabia.

Agnes Callamard, the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, released a damning report in June last year that found "credible evidence" linking the Saudi crown prince to the killing.

The independent human rights expert, who does not speak for the UN but who reports her findings to it, urged the global body to initiate an international criminal probe.

"What's happening right now is a major indictment of the capacity of the international community to hold governments to account," she told AFP.

Callamard said countries "should not be held hostage of the Saudi unwillingness and inability to meet their obligations".

She urged UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres to be more bold, saying the institution was "weak" on dealing with targeted killings.

"It is disappointing that the secretary-general has not done or said much about the killing," the expert said.

"The UN... is far too politicised to conduct a proper inquiry into a targeted killing and it has no easily accessible mechanism to do so."

'Coup' arrests

Saudi prosecutors had said deputy intelligence chief Ahmed al-Assiri oversaw Khashoggi's killing and the US Treasury had claimed the royal court's media czar Saud Al-Qahtani was "part of the planning and execution" of the operation that led to the murder.

Qahtani was investigated but not indicted due to "insufficient evidence" and Assiri was charged but eventually acquitted on the same grounds, the public prosecutor's office said.

Both aides were part of Prince Mohammed's tight-knit inner circle and were formally sacked over the killing, but only Assiri appeared at the court hearings, according to Western officials. 

Despite a torrent of international condemnation over the murder of Khashoggi, Saudi Arabia's de facto ruler Prince Mohammed appears to have strengthened his position in recent weeks.

Saudi authorities have detained three princes including King Salman's brother and nephew for allegedly plotting a coup, three sources told AFP on Saturday, signalling Prince Mohammed's tightening grip on power.

Read also: Saudi Arabia infiltration of Twitter revealed as workers 'spied on dissidents' for MbS

The detentions cast aside the last vestiges of potential opposition to the crown prince.

"What do you expect after someone has killed a person in a consulate?" Jamal Khashoggi's fiancee Hatice Cengiz.

"We have sent them a message that they can get away with this."

More than 17 months after Jamal's murder, Cengiz was at the UN in Geneva this week to press her case for justice, calling on the UN - and individual countries - to take action against those responsible. 

Agencies contributed to this report.

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