In all, eight people were sentenced for the journalist's death on Monday. File photo by Ali Haider/EPA-EFE
Dec. 23 (UPI) -- A Saudi Arabia court sentenced five people to death Monday for the 2018 death of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi, prosecutors announced.
Deputy public prosecutor Shalaan al-Shalaan said in a statement the five unidentified defendants were among 11 who were indicted in connection with Khashoggi's mutilation and slaying at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, on Oct. 2, 2018,
Three of the defendants received prison sentences of 24 years on Monday "for their role in covering up this crime and violating the law," and the other three were acquitted. Ten people were investigated but not charged.
State television reported that among those who weren't charged was the former top adviser of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The adviser was released after being questioned.
All 11 defendants may appeal the verdicts, the prosecutors said.
Salah Khashoggi, one of the slain journalist's adult children, cheered the judges online for their fair and quick verdict.
"We affirm our confidence in the Saudi judiciary at all levels, that we are fair and that we achieve justice," he said via Twitter.
The killing of Khashoggi, a dissident Saudi journalist and Washington Post columnist who was often critical of the Saudi royal family, was investigated for months and led to accusations involving the crown prince and King Salman. The CIA and Western governments said the prince had likely ordered the killing himself, or he had tacit knowledge of the plot.
The crown prince has accepted responsibility for Khashoggi's death, "because it happened under my watch," but has denied any personal involvement.
A Senior State Department Offical told reporters Monday on the condition of anonymity that the verdict was "an important step in holding those responsible for the terrible crime accountable" and that the United States had encouraged Saudi Arabia to follow through with a fair, judicial process and they will continue to do so.
"We've urged for the full accountability for Khashoggi's murder since day one," he said. "These verdicts are an important step in that process and this is a process -- a judicial process that continues."
Asked if the State Department knew the names of the individuals convicted, the official said yes but that it was up to Saudi Arabia to identify them.
Saudi prosecutors have said Khashoggi's death was ordered by the head of "a negotiating team" sent to repatriate the journalist from Turkey to Riyadh. Khashoggi went to the consulate with his fiancee to obtain documents for his forthcoming wedding.
Turkey's Foreign Affairs Minister Hami Aksoy said the verdicts "fall short" of their expectations as there is still much left unknown about the journalist's death.
"The fact that important aspects such as the fate of Mr. Khashoggi's body, the masterminds of the murder and nay local collaborators remain in the dark, is a fundamental lapse of justice and violates the principle of accountability," Aksoy said in a statement. "It is not only a judicial but also a conscientious responsibility and obligation that this murder, which was perpetrated in Turkish soil, is clarified and all those responsible, including its masterminds, are identified and held accountable."
Agnes Callamard, a United Nations special rapporteur whose report in June blamed high-level Saudi officials, including the crown prince, for Khashoggi's death, derided the verdicts and the trial as Saudi Arabia failed to investigate the masterminds of the extrajudicial killing, among a slew of other concerns.
"The hit-men are guilty, sentenced to death. The masterminds not only walk free. They have bearly been touched by the investigation and the trial," she said via Twitter. "That is the antithesis of justice.
Impunity for killing a journalist reveals political repression, corruption, abuse of power, propaganda and international complicity, she said, adding "all are present in Saudi Arabia killing of Jamal Khashoggi."