THE grisly 2018 murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the kingdom’s Istanbul consulate shocked people around the world, with calls for those behind the heinous crime to be brought to justice. However, over two years since the crime was committed, those who ordered the hit are yet to be punished, with realpolitik apparently trumping the demands of justice. The US last week released an intelligence report that very much points to the role the Saudi crown prince apparently played in this murder, saying that Mohammed bin Salman approved the operation to “capture or kill” Khashoggi. The late Saudi writer was once close to the halls of power in Riyadh, advising senior members of the royal family, but his writings, particularly in the Western press, apparently rubbed the kingdom’s de facto ruler the wrong way. However, regardless of the American report’s findings, only low-level Saudi operatives have been sanctioned by Washington, and the powerful crown prince has been let off the hook. Riyadh for its part has said it “completely rejects the negative, false and unacceptable assessment” while Pakistan’s Foreign Office states that this country “recognises Saudi efforts in this regard and expresses solidarity with the Kingdom”. Meanwhile, Hatice Cengiz, the Turkish fiancée of Khashoggi, has called for the crown prince to be “punished without delay”.

Amidst this web of claims and counter-claims, the killers of Jamal Khashoggi remain unpunished. While a trial is still under way in Turkey, eight men have been convicted of the murder in a Saudi trial, a process a UN special rapporteur has termed “the antithesis of justice”. It was always highly unlikely that the Americans — Khashoggi was a US green-card holder at the time of his death — were going to take action against the big guns in Saudi Arabia, especially under Donald Trump’s watch. But considering Joe Biden’s comments on this case before he entered the White House, it was expected that the US would censure those who ordered this monstrous crime. However, this was not to be. While the Saudi government claims innocence, the fact is that it has changed its statements regarding Khashoggi’s murder. It was first stated that the journalist left the Istanbul consulate alive, while later the official line was that the hit was a “rogue operation”. All of the above creates the impression that the Khashoggi case is far from closed, and a transparent trial is needed to punish all the perpetrators.

Published in Dawn, March 2nd, 2021

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