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Rights groups blast Turkey’s ‘appalling’ decision to transfer Khashoggi’s murder trial to Saudi Arabia

Istanbul — A Turkish court on Thursday confirmed the discontinuation of the trial in absentia of 26 suspects linked to the assassination of Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi and his transfer to Riyadh, a move that has angered rights groups. The 59-year-old journalist was killed inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2, 2018, in a gruesome murder that shocked the world.

A Turkish court opened the trial in 2020 with strained relations between the two Sunni Muslim regional powers. But as Turkey desperately needs investments to help it out of the economic crisis, Ankara has sought to bridge the gap with Riyadh.

The judge told the court: “We have decided to stop and hand over the case to Saudi Arabia.”

Rights groups blast Turkey’s ‘appalling’ decision to transfer Khashoggi’s murder trial to Saudi Arabia
Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi and his fiancée Hatice Cengiz are pictured in an undated photo from Cengiz’s Twitter account.

Hatice Cengiz/Twitter

The court’s decision comes nearly a week after Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag said he would approve a Turkish prosecutor’s request to hand over the case to Saudi Arabia, at his request. The prosecutor said the case was dragging on because, as the defendants were foreigners, court orders could not be enforced.

Entrust “the lamb to the wolf”

Defense lawyer Ali Ceylan told the court on Thursday that there would be no fair trial in Saudi Arabia.

“Let’s not entrust the lamb to the wolf,” he said, using a Turkish saying.

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Another defense attorney, Gokmen Baspinar, said the Justice Department’s decision was “against the law”.

“There are no pending prosecutions in Saudi Arabia at the moment,” he said. “Saudi authorities have completed the trial and acquitted many suspects.”

He said the decision to entrust the case to Riyadh would amount to an “attack on Turkish sovereignty” and “an example of irresponsibility towards the Turkish people”.

The decision deeply angered rights groups. The Istanbul court “agreed to transfer the case to the Saudi authorities – in a sentence, like that. It didn’t even bother to declare that the lawyers’ requests are rejected,” said Milena Buyum, d ‘Amnesty International.

She tweeted: “Appalling and clearly political decision.”

Five people have been sentenced to death by the kingdom for Khashoggi’s murder, but a Saudi court in September 2020 overturned the sentences, handing prison terms of up to 20 years to eight unnamed defendants following proceedings secret judiciary.

Bride swears she’ll ‘keep fighting’

Khashoggi’s fiancee, Hatice Cengiz, who was present at the hearing on Thursday, said she would appeal the decision.

Turkey “is not ruled by a family like in Saudi Arabia. We have a judicial system that deals with citizens’ grievances,” she told reporters outside Istanbul’s main court. “We will appeal the decision in accordance with our legal system.”

Speaking to AFP, she vowed to “keep fighting. Whoever gives up has given up. I will keep going. Sometimes the legal battle itself is more important than the results”.

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In an interview with AFP in February, Cengiz urged Ankara to insist on justice despite the rapprochement with Saudi Arabia.

“So that something like this doesn’t happen again… (Turkey) shouldn’t give up on this case,” she said.

Cengiz was waiting for Khashoggi outside the consulate when he was assassinated. He had gone there to get papers to marry her. His remains have never been found.

Early 2021, Cengiz said heir to Saudi throne ‘should be punished without delay’ after US intelligence report released by Biden administration blamed him for the brutal murder of the writer.

The intelligence report, compiled months earlier but made public only in March 2021 by the White House, concluded that “Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Mohammed bin Salman approved an operation in Istanbul, Turkey, to capture or kill Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi”.

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About a year after the murder, bin Salman says CBS News’ Norah O’Donnell he ‘absolutely’ did not order the killing of Khashoggi, but he insisted that he took ‘full responsibility as a leader in Saudi Arabia, especially since it was carried out by individuals working for the Saudi government”.

Economic difficulties change the political tone

To Riyadh’s dismay, Turkey pursued the Khashoggi case and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the time said the order to kill him came from the “highest levels” of government.

Subsequently, Saudi Arabia unofficially sought to put pressure on the Turkish economy, boycotting Turkish imports.

Last year, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu visited Riyadh to repair barriers with the kingdom.

The transfer of the case to Riyadh removes the last obstacle to a normalization of ties.

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Erdogan has sought to improve relations with regional rivals, including Egypt and the United Arab Emirates in the face of increasing diplomatic isolation which caused the drying up of foreign investment, particularly from the West.

In January, he said he was planning a trip to Saudi Arabia as the economy struggled. Turkey’s annual inflation soared to 61.1%, official data showed on Monday.


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