Listen to this article

Sometimes it’s a lot safer — and easier — to give the orders rather than take them.

A Saudi Arabian court — after holding a secret trial — recently sentenced five people to death for the infamous killing of Jamal Khashoggi, a critic of the Saudi government who wrote occasional articles for The Washington Post.

Khashoggi was killed in October 2018, the victim of a planned murder by Saudi agents, after he entered his county’s consulate in Istanbul. His fiancée was waiting outside the embassy for him to return. When he failed to come back, she alerted local authorities — then the world — to her fiancé’s fate. The killing, to say the least, caused quite an international stir and gross embarrassment to Saudi Arabian leaders.

Since then, Saudi Arabia has attempted to convince the world that Khashoggi’s killing was some sort of accident or rogue operation, that he was a victim of circumstances rather than a planned assassination directed from the country’s top leadership.

That, apparently, is why this trial was held — a show trial, of course, with nothing much to show to the world.

Eleven people, all unidentified, were put on trial. In addition to the five sentenced to death, three others were ordered to serve terms of imprisonment. No other details were given, except that the convicted can appeal.

U.S. authorities have speculated that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is responsible for the crime — either giving the order or acquiescing to a subordinate’s plan to carry out the killing. After all, in a country like Saudi Arabia, no one would dare carry out such a cruel act without top-level clearance.

The whole incident was nothing if not brazen. Leaving his Turkish fiancée outside, Khashoggi entered his country’s consulate in Istanbul to pick up documents that would allow him to marry her. He was quickly killed and his body was dismembered.

That kind of revolting behavior is typical of despotic regimes, a category into which Saudi Arabia falls despite its longtime partnership with the United States and its strategic importance in the Middle East.

Up until Khashoggi’s death, the crown prince had received high marks from the U.S. for his policies allowing Saudi women more personal freedom.

But, unfortunately, a despotic regime is a despotic regime — if citizens cross them, they can easily be targeted for punishment or, in Khashoggi’s case, even death.

Oppression, however, can run in many directions. Khashoggi’s killers now find themselves in serious jeopardy as a consequence of doing what they apparently were ordered to do. It remains to be seen how far the Saudi government will go to carry out the fiction that top officials were not involved in Khashoggi’s murder. But life is cheap in the Middle East, where some — certainly not all — of Khashoggi’s killers stand to get a taste of their own bitter medicine.