Turkey braces to hand Khashoggi trial to Saudis


Istanbul, Turkey – Turkey on Thursday holds the final stage of the trial in absentia of 26 suspects linked to the killing of Saudi critic Jamal Khashoggi before transferring the case to Riyadh, a decision 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 began the trial in 2020 with relations tense between the two Sunni Muslim regional powers.  

But with Turkey desperate for investment to help pull it out of economic crisis, Ankara has sought to heal the rift with Riyadh. 

Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag said last week that he would greenlight a Turkish prosecutor’s request to hand the case over to Saudi Arabia.  

The prosecutor said the case was “dragging” because the court’s orders could not be carried since the defendants were foreigners. 

But Human Rights Watch slammed Ankara Wednesday, saying the decision will “end any possibility of justice”.

– Getting ‘away with murder’ –

Transferring the trial would also “reinforce Saudi authorities’ apparent belief that they can get away with murder,” said Michael Page, the group’s deputy Middle East director.

Amnesty International, whose head Agnes Callamard had investigated the murder in 2019 when she was a UN special rapporteur, also strongly rebuked the Turkish government. 

“Turkey will be knowingly and willingly sending the case back into hands of those who bear responsibility,” she said.

Callamard’s 101-page UN report found “credible evidence” linking Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to the murder and an attempted cover-up.

Five people were handed death sentences by the kingdom over Khashoggi’s killing but a Saudi court in September 2020 overturned them while giving jail terms of up to 20 years to eight unnamed defendants following secretive legal proceedings.

– Boycott –

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

In the years that followed, Saudi Arabia sought to unofficially put pressure on Turkey’s economy, with a boycott on Turkish imports.

Last year, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu visited Riyadh to mend fences with the kingdom. 

The transfer of the case to Riyadh would remove the last obstacle to normalising ties. 

But Khashoggi’s Turkish fiancee Hatice Cengiz urged Ankara to insist on justice despite rapprochement with Saudi in an interview with AFP in February. 

“In order for such a thing to not happen again…(Turkey) should not abandon this case,” said Cengiz.

She was left waiting outside the consulate for Khashoggi when he was murdered. He had gone there to obtain paperwork to marry her. His remains have never been found. 

Erdogan has sought to improve ties with regional rivals including Egypt and the United Arab Emirates in the face of increasing diplomatic isolation that has caused foreign investment to dry up — particularly from the West.

In January he said he was planning a trip to Saudi Arabia as the economy went through a tumultuous period. 

Turkey’s annual inflation has soared to 61.14 percent, according to official data Monday.