Saudi prosecutor seeks death sentences as Khashoggi murder trial opens
Saudi prosecutors sought the death penalty for five of 11 defendants charged with the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, as their high-profile trial opened in Riyadh on Thursday.
The prosecution also said it was awaiting a response to two formal letters requesting evidence from Turkey, where Khashoggi was murdered inside the kingdom's Istanbul consulate on 2 October in a case that shocked the world.
All 11 accused were present with their lawyers at the first session of the trial, it said in a statement carried by the official Saudi Press Agency, without revealing their names or their alleged roles in the crime.
"The public prosecutor... is seeking capital punishment for five of the defendants for their direct involvement in the murder," the statement said.
Five top Saudi officials – including royal court insider Saud al-Qahtani – have been sacked over Khashoggi's murder, but authorities have not said if they were among those charged.
Khashoggi, a Washington Post contributor, was murdered in what Riyadh called a "rogue" operation, tipping the kingdom into one of its worst diplomatic crises and tarnishing the reputation of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
The 59-year-old Saudi insider-turned-critic was strangled and his body cut into pieces by a team of 15 Saudis sent to Istanbul for the killing, according to Turkish officials.
Turkish media reports suggested his remains, which have never been found, were dissolved in acid.
Thursday's session was attended by the kingdom's Human Rights Commission, SPA said, but like other Saudi trials it was closed to the public and media.
The United Nations and human rights groups have called for an independent investigation into Khashoggi's killing.
"Given the possible involvement of Saudi authorities in Khashoggi's murder and the lack of independence of Saudi Arabia's criminal justice system, the impartiality of any investigation and trial would be in question," Samah Hadid, a Middle East director at Amnesty International, told AFP on Thursday.
"This is why a UN-led and independent investigation is needed into the murder."
The defence team on Thursday requested a copy of the charge sheet and a timeframe within which to review the charges. The prosecution agreed to both requests while its investigation continues, SPA said.
No date has been set for the next hearing and it was unclear how long the trial would last. (AFP)