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A Look At The Fallout From The Jamal Khashoggi Case In Saudi Arabia


Saudi Arabia has sentenced five men to death and three to prison for the killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi. The CIA concluded that Khashoggi was killed at the orders of the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The crown prince denies that, and he has not been held accountable.

Joining us now is Hala Aldosari. She is a Saudi human rights activist and fellow at the MIT Center for International Studies. Welcome.


SHAPIRO: Tell us a little bit about how the Saudi justice system worked in this case. Was it what people in the West would consider a free and fair trial?

ALDOSARI: I don't think it's really up to any kinds of international standards of due process. The Saudi justice system is very much, like, shrouded in secrecy, and especially in these high-profile cases where there's some kind of political, you know, influence.

SHAPIRO: So we haven't seen the evidence. We haven't seen the testimony. We don't even know the names of the people sentenced to death.

ALDOSARI: Exactly.

SHAPIRO: Is there likely to be any future accountability, or is this the end of it?

ALDOSARI: Well, very much dependent on how the reaction to this kind of, you know, verdict. So far, we've seen continuous attempts to support and cover up the whole thing by the U.S. administration, by other entities, who largely failed to hold those involved in the killing, especially in the leadership, to account.

SHAPIRO: Several lawmakers in the United States and international leaders have condemned what they called a sham trial. At the same time, here in the U.S., a State Department official speaking anonymously yesterday told reporters that the verdicts were, quote, "an important step in holding those responsible for the terrible crime accountable."

ALDOSARI: No, I don't think that's true at all, and everyone knows that these people were actually following orders from their superiors, so their officials. It's really incomprehensible that those people would be able to avoid planes owned by Mohammed bin Salman himself or by the state, coordinate with a consulate - with the foreign minister - in order to execute this kind of high-profile killing.

SHAPIRO: You're describing some of the evidence that's been uncovered by third parties, including the U.N., the CIA and the Turks that suggest a very different narrative from what the royal family has put forward.

ALDOSARI: Yes, that's correct. And these are all evidence that have not been checked or corroborated within the process of the trial.

SHAPIRO: I know that although you're here in the U.S., you've been speaking with people in Saudi Arabia. How are Saudis reacting to this?

ALDOSARI: It's very difficult for many people, especially those who are journalists, who are human rights advocates, who are people who are very much concerned about the due process and the execution of justice.

SHAPIRO: What's the reaction been like among ordinary Saudis who are not involved in activism? Do they seem very aware of this?

ALDOSARI: It's very difficult to judge the sentiment of the public in Saudi Arabia because of the lack of spaces where people feel, you know, safe enough to express their opinions, unless they're in private spaces, where, you know, what we know is a big disappointment, basically.

SHAPIRO: There was a strange split-screen quality to Saudi Arabia over the weekend where there was this huge music festival with famous DJs and Instagram influencers posting on social media about how great it was to be in Riyadh - clearly part of a PR push by the royal family. How do you square that festival with the convictions that were released just a day later?

ALDOSARI: Well, you can't really dismiss the timing. The timing has been very much, like, crucial. In all the other cases where political, you know, prisoners have been detained, it took more than two years for their cases to even to reach courts. And you get to see this case, which is within a year, has had, you know, a verdict - the first verdict, and on the backdrop of this kind of, you know, big fanfare in Riyadh. I think it's very much, like, part of the PR that has been employed from the beginning by the leadership to refurbish their image.

SHAPIRO: Hala Aldosari is a Saudi human rights activist and fellow at the MIT Center for International Studies. Thanks for speaking with us today.

ALDOSARI: Sure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.