ISTANBUL – A Turkish court decided on Thursday to stay the trial in the absence of 26 Saudis accused of the gruesome murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi and to transfer the case to Saudi Arabia.
Kaghoggi, a United States resident who wrote critically of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, was killed on October 2, 2018 at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, where he had gone to an appointment to collect the documents needed for his marriage to a Turkish fiancée Hatice Cengiz. He never came out of the building.
Turkish officials claimed that Khashoggi was killed at the consulate by a team of Saudi agents dispatched to Istanbul and then dismembered with a bone saw. The group included a coroner, intelligence and security officials, and people working for the Crown Prince’s office. His remains have not been found.
The Istanbul court’s decision comes despite warnings from human rights groups that handing over the case to the kingdom would result in a cover-up of the murder that has sparked suspicion of the crown prince.
It also comes as Turkey, which is in a deep economic downturn, has been trying to mend its troubled ties with Saudi Arabia and a number of other countries in its region. Some media reports have claimed that Riyadh has made improved relations conditional on Turkey dropping the case against the Saudis.
The move would pave the way for a resolution of tensions between the two regional heavyweights since the 2011 Arab Spring, including Turkey’s support for Islamist movements like the Muslim Brotherhood, which Riyadh considers a terrorist group. Turkey has also sided with Qatar in a diplomatic row that saw Doha boycotted by Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
Last week, the prosecutor in the case recommended transferring him to the Kingdom, arguing that the trial in Turkey would be inconclusive. Turkey’s Minister of Justice supported the recommendation, adding that if the Turkish court is not satisfied with the outcome of the case in the Kingdom, the trial in Turkey would be resumed. However, it was not clear whether Saudi Arabia, which has already tried some of the accused behind closed doors, would open a new trial.
The court decided to drop the trial in line with the Justice Department’s “favourable opinion,” the private news agency DHA reported.
Human rights activists had asked Turkey not to transfer the case to Saudi Arabia.
“By referring a case of a murder committed on its territory, Turkey is knowingly and willingly returning the case to the hands of those who bear its responsibilities,” said Amnesty International Secretary-General Agnes Callamard. “Indeed, the Saudi system has repeatedly failed to cooperate with Turkish prosecutors and it is clear that a Saudi court cannot bring about justice.”
“What happened to Turkey’s declared promise that justice must be done for this gruesome murder and that this case would never become the pawn of political calculations and interests?” She asked.
New York-based Human Rights Watch said: “Given the complete lack of judicial independence in Saudi Arabia, the Saudi government’s role in the assassination of Khashoggi, its past attempts to obstruct justice, and a criminal justice system that lacks basic standards not enough For reasons of fairness, the chances of a fair trial in the Khashoggi case in Saudi Arabia are nil.”
Turkey apparently bugged the Saudi consulate and shared the tone of the killing with the CIA, among other things.
The murder sparked international outrage and condemnation. Western intelligence agencies, as well as the US Congress, have stated that an operation of this magnitude could not have taken place without the Prince’s knowledge.
Turkey, which had promised to solve the brutal murder, began prosecuting the accused in absentia in 2020 after Saudi Arabia rejected extradition requests. The accused included two former aides-de-camp to the prince.
Some of the men were tried behind closed doors in Riyadh. A Saudi court issued a final judgment in 2020 that sentenced five middle-level officials and employees to 20 years in prison. The court originally ordered the death penalty but reduced the sentence after Khashoggi’s son Salah, who lives in Saudi Arabia, announced he had forgiven the accused. Three others were sentenced to reduced prison terms.
Fraser reported from Ankara, Turkey.
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https://www.local10.com/news/world/2022/04/07/turkey-suspends-trial-of-saudi-suspects-in-khashoggi-killing/ Turkey suspends trial of Saudi suspects in Khashoggi murder case