In a new, but not unexpected twist on the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, Salah Khashoggi, the son of the slain journalist, tweeted on May 21:
“On this virtuous night of this holy month, we recall what God Almighty said in his holy book: ‘The repayment of bad actions, is one equivalent to it, but whoever pardons and makes reconciliation, his reward lies with God. He does not love the unjust.’
“Thus, we, sons of the martyr Jamal Khashoggi, announce that we forgive those who killed our father — may he rest in peace — for the sake of God Almighty, hopefully seeking reward with the Almighty.”
This tweet of forgiveness, or “pardon” as it’s also known, issued in the last week of Ramadan, may be the last act of a parody that has been playing out in Saudi Arabia for the last two years regarding Jamal Khashoggi’s brutal murder in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, on October 2, 2018. But it may not be the final curtain on the world stage.
Khashoggi was not only critical of the policies of the Saudi regime, but he had a vision of free expression for the Arab world.
Khashoggi was a Saudi journalist in self-exile in the US residing in Virginia and a columnist for the Washington Post. He was not only critical of the policies of the Saudi regime, but perhaps more dangerously from the regime’s point of view, he had a vision of free expression for the Arab world through the creation of a project called Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN).
The brutal assassination in cold blood and dismemberment of the journalist’s body by a 15-member hit squad flown in for the occasion shocked and disgusted the world, as did the changing story of the cover-up by the Saudi regime over the course of the next year. Khashoggi’s body was never produced.
In December 2019, following what some, including the US State Department, have called a sham trial, a Saudi court convicted eight men of the crime, and acquitted three others. Five received the death penalty, and three received prison terms. The Court did not release their names.
Their identities only came to light in April 2020 when a Turkish prosecutor filed an indictment against 20 Saudis and two others in a Turkish court. The indictment document contained extensive notes from the Saudi trial.
Saudi Arabia operates under its version of Islamic sharia law. Sharia law in general is derived from four sources: the Qur’an itself; the Sunnah (the traditions of Prophet Mohammed); Ijma (the consensus of opinion of learned Muslim jurists); and Qiyas (analogy and reasoning).
Under sharia law, crimes are divided into two categories: crimes against the right of God and crimes against the right of man. Crimes against the right of God cannot be pardoned. Crimes against the right of man, under certain circumstances, can. Homicide is one of those enumerated crimes.
A murderer can appeal to the family of the victim for forgiveness, and it only takes one member to forgive to result in a pardon.
A murderer can appeal to the family of the victim for forgiveness, and it only takes one family member to forgive to result in a pardon. Now that Khashoggi’s son has tweeted his forgiveness, that opens the door to a potential pardon by the court or clemency by the king.
Islam, like all religions, is interpreted by scholars. Indeed, Islamic scholars may come down on both sides of the debate as to whether a premeditated murder such as Khoshoggi’s can be “pardoned” or not.
Abdullah Alaoudh, a researcher at Georgetown University’s Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding and a visiting adjunct professor at George Washington University, wrote in an op-ed that Khashoggi’s premeditated murder—whereby he was lured to the scene expressly to be killed—cannot be pardoned, even by a family member, under prior established Saudi High Court precedent, as affirmed by the Saudi Attorney General.
Alaoudh also asserts that Khashoggi’s son was coerced into giving the pardon, and that it is not uncommon for the Saudi government to make family members disappear – as Alaoudh has experienced firsthand – to extract pardons to make an issue go away.
The family’s forgiveness is not binding on the Saudi authorities; it merely opens the door. But in practice in Saudi Arabia, a family’s forgiveness means that it is highly likely that the government will commute the sentences, such that the perpetrators of the heinous crime—including the mastermind—will walk.
The tens of millions of dollars and real estate the Saudi government has lavished on the Khashoggi family since Jamal’s murder are blood money.
It is quite apparent that the tens of millions of dollars and real estate the Saudi government has lavished on the Khashoggi family since Jamal’s murder are blood money. It is undoubtedly the price for the family to “forgive” the criminals and ostensibly remove this stain from the image Mohammed bin Salman (MbS) has been trying so hard to rehabilitate.
That image may not be so easily redeemed given the rampant repression and killings of dissidents, the travesties of the unsuccessful Saudi war waged in Yemen for the past five years, the recent killing of a tribesman who stood in the way of NEOM – MbS’ futuristic playground for the rich and famous, and the ongoing incarceration of the women’s rights activists who demanded the right of women to drive. One of them, Loujain Hathloul, who asked for the right women have now been granted, has been imprisoned for more than two years since May 2018, allegedly tortured, and has not been heard from for weeks, according to her family on June 2.
But the international community is not prepared to let the matter drop. UN Special Rapporteur Agnes Callamard – whose investigation concluded that the orders to kill Khashoggi came from the top, i.e., the Crown Prince himself (as did the CIA and all 100 US Senators) – is still calling for him to be held accountable for this “gruesome execution” and egregious human rights violation.
UN Special Rapporteur Agnes Callamard is calling for MbS to be held accountable for this “gruesome execution.”
“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,” Callamard wrote in a statement. She reiterated that “his was a killing for which the State of Saudi Arabia is responsible; a killing ordered and organized at the highest possible level of the State.”
A pardon will not be the final act of the parody, Callamard warned. She detailed the numerous tools and forums in which the international community can continue to seek accountability from those involved in the murder, including the Crown Prince. She outlined a role for parliaments, for international institutions like the G20, for other courts (such as in Turkey), and for the United Nations to launch a follow-up investigation to hers to pursue justice at the highest levels.
Human rights experts around the world, friends of Jamal, and his fiancée, Hatice Cengiz, who has maintained a worldwide crusade calling for accountability and the return of Jamal’s body for a decent burial, have condemned the granting of a pardon and are also seeking justice.
“Justice for Jamal means that we as an international community must do all we can to prevent and stop executions of journalists.”
As Callamard said, “Justice for Jamal means that we as an international community must do all we can to prevent and stop executions of journalists.”
To get to the bottom of Jamal’s case, you have to go to the top—the mastermind. Lest he now thinks that with the “pardon” he is getting off scot-free, there is no dearth of actors working behind the scenes to make sure he doesn’t.
The Arab Media Landscape One Year After Khashoggi: Louder Opposition, More Repression, and Zero Accountability