Saudi Arabia on Monday sentenced five people to death in connection with the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in October 2018. Three of the 11 accused were sentenced to prison terms totalling 24 years and three others were found not guilty.

The three who were found not guilty were top officials, CNN reported. One of them, Saud al-Qahtani, was a top adviser to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, while the other two were Ahmed al-Assiri, a former deputy intelligence chief, and Mohammed al-Otaibi, Saudi’s consul general in Istanbul when Khashoggi was murdered, Deputy Public Prosecutor Shaalan al-Shaalan said.

Khashoggi was murdered when he visited the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2, 2018, to get documents in connection with his upcoming marriage. His body was said to have been dismembered inside the embassy and disposed of elsewhere but his remains were never found. A body-double wearing Khashoggi’s clothes had left the embassy. The Saudi court, however, in its ruling on Monday, said the crime did not seem to be premeditated. “The investigation showed that the killing was not premeditated... The decision was taken at the spur of the moment,” Shalaan said.

The United States’ Central Intelligence Agency had concluded that Salman had ordered the killing of the journalist, who was a vocal critic of the Saudi government. His murder had caused an international uproar and led to immense criticism against the prince.

The trial was carried out in almost complete secrecy. The 11 accused were not named.

‘Utterly ridiculous’

Agnes Callamard, UN Special Rapporteur on Extra-Judicial Executions, called the verdict a travesty. “The judge appeared to have concluded that the killing of Mr Khashoggi was an accident since there seems to be no intent,” she said in a series of tweets. “To suggest that on the spare [spur] of the moment, the killers decided to cut down his body is utterly ridiculous. Dismemberment requires minimum planning.”

Callamard had published a 100-page report on the journalist’s murder in December 2018, saying it was a “deliberate, premeditated execution, an extrajudicial killing for which the state of Saudi Arabia is responsible under international human rights law”.

Turkish foreign ministry spokesperson Hami Aksoy called the verdict disappointing as “important aspects of the murder remain in the dark”, CNN reported. “The fact that the departed Khashoggi’s remains are still unaccounted for and the identity of the instigators as well as the local collaborators, if there were any, have still not been determined is a fundamental deficiency in the interest of serving justice and accountability.”

UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said Khashoggi’s killing “was a terrible crime”. “Saudi Arabia must ensure all of those responsible are held to account and that such an atrocity can never happen again.”