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Turkey suspends Khashoggi trial, moves it to Saudi Arabia

April 7, 2022

A Turkish court has confirmed transferring the case of murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi to Saudi Arabia — a move that his fiancee and rights groups warned could lead to a cover-up of the killing.

Commemoration ceremony held in front of the US Congress on the 3rd anniversary of the death of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi
The gruesome murder of the 59-year-old journalist in 2018 shocked the worldImage: Yasin Ozturk/AA/picture alliance

A Turkish court on Thursday suspended the trial in absentia of 26 Saudis charged with the killing of Jamal Khashoggi and confirmed transferring the case to Saudi Arabia.

Khashoggi, an outspoken critic of the Saudi royal family and a columnist for The Washington Post, was killed in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018. 

Last week, Turkish prosecutors called for the case's transfer to Saudi authorities, sparking wide criticism from human rights groups and Kashoggi's family. 

Critics have warned that turning the case to Saudi Arabia would lead to a cover-up of the murder, as the case has cast suspicion on Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

The move is also widely seen as a political one, as it is likely to help Turkey — which has been struggling with an economic downturn — repair its ties with Saudi Arabia and allies in the region. 

It's still unclear if Saudi Arabia, which has already put some of the defendants on trial, would open a new case.

A paper pictured during a  commemoration ceremony held in Washington, D.C., that reads "Where's the body?"
Mystery has surrounded Khashoggi's murder, with his body never having been foundImage: Yasin Ozturk/AA/picture alliance

Khashoggi's fiancee seeks to overturn decision

Khashoggi's fiancee Hatice Cengiz said she would appeal the Turkish court's decision. 

Turkey "is not ruled by a family like in Saudi Arabia. We have a justice system that addresses citizens' grievances," she told reporters. "We will appeal the decision in line with our legal system."

Cengiz's lawyers also slammed the decision to halt the trial in Turkey, saying it was "against the law [...] because the acquittal ruling about the defendants in Saudi Arabia has been finalized."

Hatice Cengiz enters the courtroom at Istanbul's Caglayan Court as judges rule on the prosecution's demand to end the trial and refer it to Saudi authorities
Hatice Cengiz enters the courtroom at Istanbul's Caglayan Court as judges rule on the prosecution's demand to end the trial and refer it to Saudi authoritiesImage: Anne Pollmann/dpa/picture alliance

A fair trial in Saudi Arabia is unlikely, groups warn

Rights groups have raised concerns over Saudi Arabia's justice system and its human rights record.

"By transferring the case of a murder that was committed on its territory, Turkey will be knowingly and willingly sending the case back into the hands of those who bear its responsibility," said Amnesty International's Secretary-General Agnes Callamard.

"Indeed, the Saudi system has repeatedly failed to cooperate with the Turkish prosecutor and it is clear that justice cannot be delivered by a Saudi court."

Human Rights Watch (HRW) also echoed Amnesty International's concerns.

"Given the complete lack of judicial independence in Saudi Arabia, the role of the Saudi government in Khashoggi's killing, its past attempts at obstructing justice, and a criminal justice system that fails to satisfy basic standards of fairness, chances of a fair trial for the Khashoggi case in Saudi Arabia are close to nil," HRW said.

Trial in absentia

Turkish officials have alleged that Khashoggi was killed and then dismembered with a bone saw inside the consulate by a team of Saudi agents sent to Istanbul.

His body has not been found. 

Security cam image of Jamal Khashoggi entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2, 2018
Security cam image of Jamal Khashoggi entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, where he was last seen, on October 2, 2018Image: Briarcliff Entertainment/Everett Collection/picture alliance

In 2020, Turkey began prosecuting defendants in absentia after Saudi Arabia rejected requests for their extradition. The defendants included two former aides of the prince.

Saudia Arabia put some defendants on trial behind closed doors. The court sentenced five mid-level officials and operatives to 20-year jail terms. 

The Riyadh court had initially ordered the death penalty, but Khashoggi's son said he forgave the defendants, leading the judges to reduce their punishment.

The Day: Justice not done

fb/sms (AP, AFP, Reuters)