Saudi prosecutor seeks death sentences as Khashoggi murder trial opens

A digital image of Jamal Khashoggi is projected at a commemorative event for the murdered Saudi journalist

The trial of 11 people accused of being involved in the murder of Jamal Khashoggi has begun in the kingdom whose de facto ruler is suspected of ordering the killing.

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.

A criminal court in Riyadh held the trial session for 11 defendants, local media reported, citing a statement issued by the Saudi Public Prosecution.

The UN rights office always opposed the death penalty, she added. The Independent also relayed claims from Turkish media that some of the individuals most strongly linked to the Khashoggi killing do not appear to be under arrest in any meaningful way. The Saudi government has portrayed Khashoggi's death as a botched rendition attempt by rogue operators, although the Saudi attorney general described the killing as "premeditated" in late October, based on information the Turkish government provided.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) says it can not assess the fairness of a trial underway in Saudi Arabia over the killing of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi, emphasizing that in any case it is "not sufficient".

Among Prince Mohammed's strongest allies is US President Donald Trump, who now faces increased pressure to approve measures against Saudi Arabia.

The kingdom has come under heavy worldwide pressure, including from the United States, its closest ally, whose Senate has voted in favour of a resolution blaming the crown prince for the murder.

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At least five people are facing the death penalty over the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

But in November the Saudi attorney general ruled out any involvement by the young crown prince. The brief statement did not name the suspects.

Prosecutors announced that 11 suspects in the slaying attended their first court hearing with lawyers, however they have not been named.

Saudi Arabia's public prosecutor has said Khashoggi's alleged killers planned his death three days in advance.

But Turkish sources told MEE at the time that the Saudi officials were very uncooperative and only sought to find out what Turkey knew, failing to offer any evidence themselves. It did not give details on the next hearing.

Assaf replaced Adel al-Jubeir.Experts in Saudi politics said the move reflected a perception that Jubeir was tainted by having served as Riyadh's chief global defender during the Khashoggi affair.

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