• Saudi Arabia has sentenced five to death in the assassination of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi
  • Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman has been accused by the CIA of directing the killing
  • President Trump has frequently defended Saudi Arabia during the Khashoggi controversy 

Saudi Arabia on Monday gave death sentences to five people tied to the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi and ordered three others to serve lengthy prison sentences. Two senior aides to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman were exonerated in the secret trial.

Khashoggi, a journalist known for his fierce criticism of Prince Mohammed, was killed after he entered the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul in October 2018. Prince Mohammed has been blamed for the murder but has not faced domestic or international prosecution for the allegations.

In November 2018, the CIA concluded that Prince Mohammed ordered Khashoggi’s death, based on recordings obtained by the Turkish government along with other evidence. A bipartisan group of U.S. senators who met with CIA Director Gina Haspel also said they are certain that the crown prince had ordered the killing.

“If the crown prince went in front of a jury he would be convicted in 30 minutes,” then-Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said in December 2018.

“His killing was the result of elaborate planning involving extensive coordination and significant human and financial resources. It was overseen, planned and endorsed by high-level officials. It was premeditated,” Agnes Callimard, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary killings said in June about the assassination after a six-month investigation.

One of the senior aides who directly oversaw the killing had directly messaged Prince Mohammed hours before the act had been carried out in the consulate. Khashoggi had fears about his safety before he had entered the consulate but went inside in order to obtain documents so he could marry his Turkish fiancee.

But one of the main reasons why Prince Mohammad has been able to avoid prosecution could involve his relationship with President Trump, who has touted the advantages of the close U.S.-Saudi Arabia relationship. Trump has claimed that arms deals with Saudi Arabia could be the engine behind millions of U.S. jobs, an exaggerated figure. He has also said this year that the crown prince is a “friend” who is “doing a spectacular job.” Trump has mostly dodged questions about Prince Mohammed's involvement in the killing.

Some major European nations, such as the U.K. and France, have continued selling arms to Saudi Arabia in spite of Khashoggi's murder.

Khashoggi had called for more freedom of expression in Saudi Arabia. Human rights watchdog Freedom House said that “Saudi Arabia’s absolute monarchy restricts almost all political rights and civil liberties” and has called the country “not free.”