Saudi Arabia seeks to turn the page on the assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, with the announcement of a final verdict, but this sordid murder and the repercussions of this planetary scandal are likely to haunt the kingdom for a long time to come, analysts say .
• Read also: Saudi final verdict for Khashoggi murder “far from meeting expectations”
Jamal Khashoggi, a Washington Post collaborator and critic of the Saudi regime after being close to it, was assassinated and his body cut into pieces in October 2018 in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul where he had gone to retrieve a document. His remains have never been found.
The murder plunged the Saudi kingdom, a regional heavyweight and the world’s largest crude exporter, into one of its worst diplomatic crises and tarnished the image of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, accused by Turkish and American officials of being the sponsor of the assassination.
On Monday, in a final verdict, a Saudi court overturned the five death sentences handed down for the assassination and sentenced eight unidentified defendants to terms of seven to 20 years in prison.
“Justice is served”, welcomed the pro-government Saudi newspaper Okaz on Tuesday.
But, for experts, this murder and the scandal it provoked will be difficult to forget, especially as the kingdom continues to crack down on critical voices.
“The verdict and the sentences will not draw a final line on the Khashoggi affair,” Hussein Ibish, a researcher at the Arab Gulf States Institute based in Washington, told AFP.
“Abroad, we do not seem to consider that justice has been served. The Saudis could be haunted (by this affair) for a long time. “
“Parody of justice”
After the announcement of the final verdict, the Turkish fiancée of Jamal Khashoggi, Hatice Cengiz, denounced a “farce”.
The UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, Agnès Callamard, criticized a “new act in this parody of justice”.
And Turkey considered that the final verdict was “far from meeting (its) expectations” and those of the international community.
Saudi Arabia, which suffers from the fall in oil prices, continues to try to restore its image after this scandal, especially as it is the first Arab country to host a G20 summit, of which it chairs , in November.
Before the Khashoggi affair, the crown prince had established himself in the media as a modern young ruler, in an ultra-conservative kingdom, conceding some rights to women and further opening up the economy.
After having denied the assassination, then advanced several versions, Ryad affirmed that it had been committed by Saudi agents who acted alone. But the CIA and Agnès Callamard have established a direct link between the crown prince and the assassination, which Ryad denies.
Senior officials accused of involvement in the murder have been exonerated, including two collaborators of the crown prince, Ahmed al-Assiri, deputy head of intelligence, and royal court media man Saoud al-Qahtani.
The easing of sentences shows that “Prince Mohammed and the Saudi state seem more confident that the world is losing interest in the Khashoggi affair,” observes Bessma Momani, professor at the University of Waterloo in Canada.
This relief “also helps in a way to restore the confidence of Saudi intelligence agents in the fact that the state is standing behind them,” she told AFP.
Almost two years after the storm sparked by the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, Saudi Arabia hopes to attract still hesitant foreign investors.
“Saudi leaders have learned that a positive brand image of the country can be important in attracting foreign investment and signing trade deals with the West,” said Bessma Momani.
In an attempt to improve its human rights image, the kingdom recently decided to abolish flogging and abolish the death penalty for juvenile defendants.
But the repression of all forms of dissent is not weakening. Saad Aljabri, an ex-intelligence strongman exiled in Canada, recently claimed that a team of Saudi hired killers were sent to find him just two weeks after Jamal Khashoggi’s assassination.
For Hussein Ibish, “it still seems that Saudi citizens, at home and especially abroad, remain very vulnerable to intimidation, arrest and other harmful acts”.