Turkey hands over Khashoggi murder trial to Saudi Arabia

ISTANBUL – A court in Turkey handed over the trial in the murder of Saudi dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi to Saudi Arabia on Thursday, a move that will almost certainly end the latest case that hoped to serve some measure of justice for a heinous crime that caused worldwide outrage.

The Turkish decision was a blow to human rights lawyers who had hoped the trial in Turkey would at least provide more evidence of who was involved and how Khashoggi was murdered and dismembered in 2018 by a Saudi assassination squad at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, where he was killed. went to get paperwork needed to marry his Turkish fiancée, Hatice Cengiz.

“Let’s not entrust the lamb to the wolf,” Ali Ceylan, a lawyer for Ms Cengiz, told the court on Thursday before the decision was announced. “Let’s protect the dignity and honor of the Turkish nation, and let’s not make such a decision.”

Ceylan reminded the court that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and other Turkish officials had said there was no justice in Saudi Arabia.

Gokmen Baspinar, another of Ms Cengiz’s lawyers, told the court that the trial of suspects in the Saudi Arabia case was already over and that many of the suspects in the Turkish trial there had been acquitted.

“It would be irresponsible for the Turkish nation to turn the matter over to a country without justice,” Baspinar said.

The decision coincided with efforts by Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to improve his country’s relationship with Saudi Arabia. Last week, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said in a televised interview that “concrete steps” were underway to restore ties with the Arab world’s richest state.

The head of a panel of judges announced the decision in court and last week complied with a request from the prosecutor to transfer the case because none of the 26 Saudi suspects on trial were in Turkish custody. The Turkish justice minister supported the prosecutor’s request.

The Turkish trial, which started in 2020, was largely symbolic as Saudi Arabia had refused to extradite the suspects and Turkish law does not allow convictions of people who failed to testify.

Khashoggi was a prominent journalist who feuded with his government and moved to the United States, where he wrote columns for The Washington Post criticizing Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and his plans to rebuild the kingdom. Mr Khashoggi’s body has never been found.

Prince Mohammed insists he knew nothing about the assassination plot beforehand. However, the CIA concluded that he had given the go-ahead for the operation to kill or capture Khashoggi.

Turkish authorities trickled out details to keep the case in the spotlight, which, along with the assassination, exacerbated long-standing tensions between Turkey and Saudi Arabia over Turkey’s relationship with political Islamists in the Arab world and its support for the anti government uprisings of the Arab Spring, which Saudi Arabia has largely opposed.

Saudi Arabia had declared an unofficial boycott of Turkish goods, drastically reducing the flow of Turkish exports to Saudi Arabia, and Turkey has more recently experienced a significant financial crisis that has plunged the value of its currency.

In 2019, Saudi Arabia sentenced five men to death and three to prison terms for the murder of Khashoggi. The following year, the death sentences were changed to prison terms after one of Khashoggi’s adult sons pardoned the killers.

That trial reinforced the Saudi narrative that Mr Khashoggi’s death was the result of a rogue operation unsupervised by top officials. The Saudis never named the convicted men, and a United Nations expert dismissed the trial as “the antithesis of justice.”

Confirming the transfer of the case to Saudi Arabia last week, Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag said in a statement that the trial would continue in Saudi Arabia and that Turkey would await convictions and sentences before pursuing its own case. drop.

But it seemed unlikely that Saudi Arabia would hear the case, as Saudi officials have said they view their trial as the final word on the matter.

Safak Timur reported from Istanbul, and Ben Hubbard from Beirut, Lebanon.

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