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Jamal Khashoggi's son says family have 'pardoned' his killers

If official, pardon may help suspects convicted for killing escape death sentence
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman meeting with Salah Khashoggi in Riyadh (AFP)

The son of Jamal Khashoggi said early on Friday that the family of the slain Saudi journalist had "pardoned" his killers, opening the door for commuting the death sentence for suspects convicted of the murder.

"We, the family of the martyr Jamal Khashoggi, announce that we have pardoned [those] who killed our father," Salah Khashoggi said in a brief statement published on Twitter.

The younger Khashoggi also shared a Quranic verse encouraging forgiveness, noting that the family's statement coincides with the holy Ramadan night of Laylat al-Qadr, also known as Night of Power.

Khashoggi, a Middle East Eye and Washington Post columnist and critic of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, was murdered and dismembered by Saudi government agents at the kingdom's consulate in Istanbul in October 2018. 

Last December, Saudi Arabia sentenced five people to death for their involvement in the murder in a move that was dismissed as a show, rather than genuine accountability, by critics of the kingdom. The trial exonerated Mohammed bin Salman's close adviser Saud al-Qahtani, who is believed to have orchestrated the assassination.

In murder cases, Saudi law allows the victim's family to pardon the killers, which can help them escape the death sentence. It is not clear if Salah Khashoggi's statement amounts to a formal pardon.

MEE reported in August that the family had come under pressure from Saudi authorities to accept “blood money” and thus forgo the right of revenge or “qisas".

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“There were signs that religious figures would provide a religious view stating that Khashoggi’s heirs had the following choices: they could either forfeit their rights with no compensation, forgo revenge, take blood money or accept a financial settlement agreed by the parties involved,” said a report by the Emirates Policy Centre, which has close links to the Emirati government and security services.

“These practices are sanctioned by sharia and commonly followed in the Saudi judicial process relating to killings where the parties opt to reconcile based on an amount of money.”

However, Salah Khashoggi denied at the time that payments to the family, which included million-dollar homes and monthly payments of at least $10,000, were an admission of guilt by Saudi rulers.

Hatice Cengiz, Khashoggi's Turkish fiancee, rejected the family's pardoning statement, saying that she does not forgive those who ordered and carried out the killing.

"Jamal Khashoggi has become an international symbol bigger than any of us, admired and loved. His ambush and heinous murder does not have a statue of limitations and no one has the right to pardon his killers. I and others will not stop until we get #JusticeForJamal," she wrote on Twitter, hours after Salah Khashoggi made his statement.

'Parody of justice'

UN Special Rapporteur Agnes Callamard described Salah Khashoggi's announcement as part of a "well-rehearsed parody of justice", but said it was expected.

“The pardon of those who killed Jamal Khashoggi is the first step towards their eventual release, the antithesis of justice and instead a purchase of absolute impunity, " she said.

"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."

A probe by Callamard concluded last year that Kashoggi's killing "constituted an extrajudicial killing for which the state of the kingdom of Saudi Arabia is responsible".

On Friday she called on the UN secretary-general to a launch a follow-up investigation, taking into account the chain of command.

"The killing was ordered and organised at the highest possible level of the state. It demands an investigation into the chain of command to identify those who ordered, incited, allowed or turned a blind eye to the murder," she said.

Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, said in a tweet: "One can only imagine the combination of bribes and threats that led Jamal Khashoggi's son to announce that he "forgives" his father's brutal murderers."

'The pardon of those who killed Jamal Khashoggi is the first step towards their eventual release, the antithesis of justice and instead a purchase of absolute impunity'

- Agnes Callamard, UN special rapporteur

"Jamal Khashoggi's son could have simply urged the Saudi government not to execute the men it has blamed (scapegoated) in a secret "trial" for the murder of his father without implicitly forgiving the senior official who ordered that murder," he added.

"The Saudi crown prince's strategy: press Jamal Khashoggi's son to "forgive" his father's murderers, and then hope we'll forget that the author of this brutal crime has never been identified. But we remember."

Khashoggi's assassination caused outcry worldwide, badly denting the Saudi government's reputation. Late in 2018, the CIA concluded the crown prince was behind the assassination - an assessment that was backed by every single US senator in December of that year.

The gruesome killing fuelled growing opposition to the kingdom in Washington, with lawmakers from both major parties calling for a reevaluation of US-Saudi relations.

Saudi officials initially insisted that Khashoggi left the consulate, however a series of leaks of Turkish intelligence recordings from inside the consulate to media outlets including MEE revealed he had instead been seized, murdered and dismembered.

Khashoggi's remains have never been found, though Turkish investigators believe they may have been incinerated in an oven in the consul-general's Istanbul residence and left in sealed bags in a well there. Saudi authorities have not allowed proper probing of that well, Turkish investigators have complained.

Eventually Saudi Arabia acknowledged that the journalist was killed in its consulate, though officials in Riyadh insist the murder was a rogue operation that took place without the authorisation or knowledge of the crown prince.