The opening of the trial yesterday in Riyadh, three months after Jamal Khashoggi’s murder in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, was announced in a terse communiqué by the state-run Saudi Press Agency, which did not name any of the defendants, not even those for whom the death penalty has been requested. No date has been set for the next hearing.
“Seeking the death penalty for Khashoggi’s alleged murderers is a terrible way to try to cover up who was really responsible,” RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire said. “Only an independent international investigation, as RSF has demanded from the outset, will serve to shed light on this case.”
The same SPA communiqué quoted the Saudi prosecutor-general as saying the Saudi authorities received no response from Turkey to their request for evidence. For its part, Saudi Arabia rejected Turkey’s request for the extradition of 18 persons suspected of direct involvement in the murder.
A columnist critical of the Saudi regime who was living in self-imposed exile, Khashoggi disappeared after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on 2 October. After initially denying that he had died, the Saudi authorities finally admitted he was murdered by government agents, and fired those allegedly responsible. Although it is widely suspected that the murder was approved at the “highest level,” Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman continues to be the power behind the throne.
Khashoggi’s murder came at a time when the Saudi authorities were cracking down on journalists and bloggers. Between 25 and 30 professional and non-professional journalists are currently detained and are being mistreated. Some are held arbitrarily without trial. Others are serving long jail sentences. Saudi Arabia is ranked 169th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2018 World Press Freedom Index.