A UN investigator has predicted Saudi Arabia will eventually release the convicted killers of the Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, after the killers were said to have been forgiven by Khashoggi’s sons in a move she said represented the kingdom’s “absolute impunity”.
Agnès Callamard, the special rapporteur for extrajudicial killings who has said the 2018 murder was committed at the behest of the Saudi state, said on Friday that the message of forgiveness represented the “first steps towards their eventual release” under Saudi and sharia law.
“All of us who over the last 20 months have reported on the gruesome execution of Jamal Khashoggi and absence of accountability for his killing expected this,” she said. “The Saudi authorities are playing out what they hope will be the final act in their well-rehearsed parody of justice in front of an international community far too ready to be deceived.”
Khashoggi’s son Salah, who lives in Saudi Arabia, posted a statement on Twitter early on Friday saying members of his family had decided to forgive the killers.
“On this very blessed night of this very blessed month [of Ramadan], we remember God almighty’s saying in his holy book: ‘If you forgive and you make reconciliation, the reward is due from God,’” he said.
“This is why we, the sons of the martyr Jamal Khashoggi, announce that we forgive and pardon those who participated in the killing of our father.”
Khashoggi’s fiancee, Hatice Cengiz, an outspoken advocate for justice for Khashoggi, condemned the statement. In a tweet, she said the “heinous murder does not have a statute of limitations and no one has the right to pardon his killers”.
A Saudi court ruled in December that five of the convicted murderers – whose names were never released – would face the death penalty and three others would face prison.
Two of the alleged architects of the murder – Saud al-Qahtani, a close adviser to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and Ahmed Asiri – were released owing to lack of evidence. The trial, held in secret, was broadly condemned as a sham by international rights activists, who said the masterminds of the murder had not been held accountable.
Callamard, whose 2019 report on Khashoggi’s murder concluded that it was a state-sponsored killing, said Khashoggi’s family had probably been put under pressure to issue the statement.
She said it undermined a series of steps Saudi Arabia had recently announced that appeared to show it was adopting basic human rights standards, such as dropping the death penalty for minors and ending the practice of flogging.
Callamard said in a statement posted on Facebook that other avenues of justice ought to be pursued. She called on prosecutors and judges in Turkey to hold a trial of Khashoggi’s murderers in absentia; for all avenues under civil and criminal law in the US to be pursued; and for the US Congress to continue efforts to declassify the findings of US intelligence agencies who reportedly believed that Prince Mohammed was responsible for the murders.
She also questioned whether Saudi Arabia ought to remain the host of this year’s G20, which is due to take place in Riyadh.