Invoking Ramadan tradition, family of slain Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi pardons killers

Announcement likely to put a damper on Turkish attempts to exploit the case.
Friday 22/05/2020
A 2018 file photo shows Salah Khashoggi, the son of Jamal Khashoggi, and his relatives receiving mourners at an events hall in Jeddah. (AFP)
A 2018 file photo shows Salah Khashoggi, the son of Jamal Khashoggi, and his relatives receiving mourners at an events hall in Jeddah. (AFP)

London —The family of slain Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi announced Friday they have forgiven his Saudi killers, opening the door to legal reprieve for the five government agents who were sentenced to death for the October 2018 murder in Istanbul.

“On this holy night of this blessed month (of Ramadan)… We, the sons of the martyr Jamal Khashoggi, announce that we forgive those who killed our father as we seek reward from God Almighty,” wrote one of his sons, Salah Khashoggi, on Twitter.

Salah Khashoggi explained on Twitter that forgiveness was extended to the killers during the last nights of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in line with Islamic tradition to offer pardons in cases allowed by Islamic law.

A 2018 file photo shows Salah Khashoggi, left, a son of Jamal Khashoggi, left, shaking hands with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Riyadh. (AP)
A 2018 file photo shows Salah Khashoggi, left, a son of Jamal Khashoggi, left, shaking hands with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Riyadh. (AP)

Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi writer who was initially close to the Saudi ruling class before becoming a frequent critic of Riyadh, was killed in October 2018 inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. The murder was perpetrated by Saudi agents in what Riyadh described as “a rogue operation.”

The pardon means that the killers’ death sentence can be legally commuted, after it was ruled in December that the crime was not premeditated.

Khashoggi’s murder took place while his Turkish fiancee waited for him outside the Saudi consulate building in Istanbul.

In addition to the five people who were sentenced to execution, a Saudi court found three others guilty of covering up the crime and sentenced them to a combined 24 years in prison.

In all, 11 people were put on trial in Saudi Arabia for the killing.

Saudi media sought to clarify Friday that the announcement made by Khashoggi’s sons may spare the convicted killers from execution, but does not mean they will go unpunished.

Authorities in Riyadh did not immediately comment on the legal ramifications of the announcement from Salah, who resides in the kingdom and has denied reports of a financial settlement with the government.

“What this essentially means is that the killers will avoid capital punishment since that is a right the family (under sharia law) has to forgive,” Ali Shihabi, a Saudi author and analyst close to the government said on Twitter.

“Other legal procedures by the state continue.”

Analyst Nabeel Nowairah also said the family’s declaration effectively means the “murderers will not be executed.”

A 2018 file photo shows Salah Khashoggi, left, a son of Jamal Khashoggi, left, shaking hands with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Riyadh. (AP)
A 2018 file photo shows a video of Hatice Cengiz, fiancee of slain Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, being played during a testimonial to  Khashoggi. (AP)

In an interview in September with CBS’s 60 Minutes, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz said he takes “full responsibility as a leader in Saudi Arabia.” But he insisted that he had no knowledge of the operation, saying he cannot keep close track of the country’s millions of employees.

Experts believe the family pardon is likely to put a damper on Turkish attempts to exploit the murder in order to put pressure on Saudi Arabia and damage the reputation of its leadership. But Ankara is unlikely to let off the pressure.

Turkey continues its own prosecution of the case and has charged 20 suspects in the murder.

Khashoggi’s Turkish fiancee, Hatice Cengiz, reacted angrily to the news of the killers’ pardon.

“His ambush and heinous murder does not have a statute of limitations and no one has the right to pardon his killers,” Cengiz wrote on Twitter.

“The killers came from Saudi with premeditation to lure, ambush & kill him… We will not pardon the killers nor those who ordered the killing,” she added.

Turkey, a close ally of Qatar, leads a foreign policy perceived by Saudi Arabia as antagonistic to its interests. Both Ankara and Doha maintain close relations with the Muslim Brotherhood.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has taken sides in favour of Qatar in its long-running dispute with the Saudi-led Arab quartet, which includes the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt. He has also strengthened Ankara’s military relations with Doha by announcing the completion of a second Turkish army base where hundreds of Turkish troops are reportedly stationed.

Erdogan strives to project himself as the leader of the Muslim Sunni world and revive Turkey’s Ottoman legacy. Riyadh, Abu Dhabi, Manama and Cairo consider the Brotherhood a “terrorist organisation.”

Another hot spot where regional competition has surfaced is Libya, where Turkey has been supporting the Government of National Accord (GNA) against Libyan National Army (LNA) troops loyal to Field-Marshal Khalifa Haftar. Ankara has announced the delivery of military equipment and the dispatching of hundreds of mercenaries from Syria to Libya.