By Fatemeh Salehi

Riyadh scenario for closing a criminal case

December 28, 2019 - 14:7

The Saudi judiciary has triggered a controversy by issuing verdicts for the culprits in the assassination of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi and acquitting the former consul-general in Istanbul.

The Saudi public prosecutor has sentenced five people to death and three other to jail terms totaling 24 years over the killing of Khashoggi. The verdicts were issued while Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is the main defendant in the case.

However, the Saudi prosecutor said that there are no charges against a former high-profile Saudi royal adviser Saud al-Qahtani in the killing, announcing the release of Saudi Arabia's former consul-general in Istanbul, Mohammad al-Otaibi. The former consul-general in Istanbul, who had been charged with participation in the murder of Khashoggi, was acquitted.

Jamal Khashoggi, former editor-in-chief of the Saudi Arabian newspaper Al Watan and a columnist for the Washington post, entered the consulate on October 2, 2018, to carry out some official affairs and did not leave there. On October 20, Riyadh affirmed the killing of Khashoggi inside the consulate. The prosecutor said that Khashoggi died after a clash with several people inside the consulate, and 18 Saudi citizens were detained regarding the case.

The Turkish Prosecutor General’s Office said in a statement on October 31, 2018 that Jamal khashoggi was strangled and killed according to a prearranged plan once he arrived at the consulate.

The issuance of the verdicts has drawn widespread criticism by some countries and international organizations, with many media outlets finding them offensive.

But why should Saudi Arabia issue these verdicts and acquit the main defendants in such circumstances?

A closer look at the current situation and Saudi Arabia’s move reveals that Riyadh has launched a scenario to ease the pressure by the public opinion and to improve its image.

Some experts believe that verdicts cannot be examined without considering the fact that Saudi Arabia has taken over the G20 presidency.

Riyadh is trying to close the case of Khashoggi’s killing, along with some other controversial cases against Saudi Arabia, before holding the future summit. The next summit of the G20 will be held in Saudi Arabia in November 2020. By issuing the verdicts, the Saudis have shown that they do not mind the future consequences and do not care about international positions and reactions to the verdicts.

According to many international bodies, the Saudi judiciary does not have required transparency to deal with the case, as the main culprits were acquitted and above-mentioned verdicts were issued for those who did not play a significant role in the killing.

It is quite clear that the Saudi officials only intend to close the case. Of course, the officials killed two birds with one stone by acquitting the main defendants and closing the case.

Another group of analysts believe that the Saudis have seized the opportunity provided by the New Year holidays to issue verdicts against the defendants, as most of the official and legal organizations, and even media activists are in vacation.

Therefore, the verdicts cannot properly attract the attention of media outlets, domestic and international organizations and public opinion as they are busy celebrating the New Year. Accordingly, the Saudi authorities, as they should, will not be pressured.

On the other hand, an examination of the current developments in the region, ranging from the Turkish intervention in Libya to the recent Islamic summit in Kuala Lumpur coupled with other important developments in the Middle East, indicates that, at the present time, there are more serious issues for the media outlets than the sentences against the defendants in the Khashoggi case.

It seems that, in comparison to the current developments in the region, the Khashoggi killing is not appealing anymore because a long time has passed since it happened.

Currently, the U.S. is getting ready for the 2020 presidential election, so it cannot take the verdicts into account properly, a matter that is in Saudi Arabia’s favor.

The long time passed since the crime, major regional developments followed by the international focus, the New Year holidays, the approaching the U.S. election, and finally Riyadh’s presidency of the G20 summit are among the factors considered by Saudi Arabia in determining the time of issuing verdicts against the defendants in the case of the Khashoggi killing.

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