Saudi state media says prosecutor has demanded death penalty for five of the 11 defendants.
The United Nations human rights office has said it could not assess the fairness of a trial taking place in Saudi Arabia into the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, adding that it was “not sufficient”.
Spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani on Friday reiterated the UN office’s call for an independent investigation “with international involvement”.
The comments from the UN official came a day after the high-profile trial of the 11 suspects charged with the Washington Post columnist‘s murder opened in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, on Thursday.
A Saudi prosecutor sought the death sentence for five of the 11 suspects linked to the October 2 killing that caused a global outrage.
The UN, however, said it was “against the imposition of the death penalty” of five suspects. The kingdom previously announced 18 people had been arrested.
Khashoggi 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.
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, said on Thursday.
“This is why a UN-led and independent investigation is needed into the murder.”
The Khashoggi murder rattled the world at a time when Saudi Arabia and its de facto leader, Prince Mohammed, were pushing an aggressive public relations campaign to rebrand the kingdom as a modern state.
Among Prince Mohammed’s strongest allies is US President Donald Trump, who now faces increasing pressure to approve measures against Saudi Arabia.
The US Central Intelligence Agency has reportedly concluded that Prince Mohammed very likely ordered Khashoggi’s murder.
A bipartisan resolution approved by the US Senate last month also held the crown prince responsible for the killing.
But in November, the Saudi attorney general ruled out any involvement by the young crown prince.