Turkey Transfers Khashoggi Murder Trial to Saudi Arabia

ISTANBUL (AP) — A court in Turkey on Thursday transferred the trial for the murder of Saudi dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi to Saudi Arabia, a move that will almost certainly end the last case that had hoped for some measure of justice for a heinous crime that drew worldwide outrage.

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

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

Mr. Ceylan reminded the court that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and other Turkish officials had said that justice did not exist in Saudi Arabia.

Gokmen Baspinar, another lawyer for Ms. Cengiz, told the court that the trial of the suspects in the case in Saudi Arabia had already ended and that many of the defendants in the Turkish trial had been acquitted there.

“It would be irresponsible for the Turkish nation to transfer the case to a country without justice,” Baspinar said.

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

The head of a panel of judges announced the decision in court, agreeing to a prosecutor’s request last week to transfer the case because none of the 26 Saudi suspects on trial were in Turkish custody. Turkey’s justice minister backed the prosecutor’s request.

The Turkish trial, which began in 2020, was largely symbolic because Saudi Arabia refused to extradite the suspects and Turkish law does not allow the conviction of people who have not testified.

Khashoggi was a prominent journalist who fell out 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 remake the kingdom. Mr. Khashoggi’s body has never been found.

Prince Mohammed has insisted that he knew nothing of the assassination plan beforehand. However, the CIA concluded that it had given the green light to the operation to kill or capture Khashoggi.

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

Saudi Arabia had imposed an unofficial boycott on Turkish products, drastically reducing the flow of Turkish exports to Saudi Arabia, and Turkey has recently suffered a major financial crisis that has caused the value of its currency to plummet.

In 2019, Saudi Arabia sentenced five men to death and three to prison for Khashoggi’s murder. 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 Khashoggi’s death was the result of a rogue operation without the oversight of senior officials. The Saudis never named the men who were sentenced, and a United Nations expert dismissed the trial as “the antithesis of justice.”

Endorsing 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 wait to see convictions and sentences before dropping its own case.

But it seemed unlikely that Saudi Arabia would hear the case because Saudi officials have said they consider his trial to be the final word on the matter.

East of Safak reported from Istanbul, and ben hubbard from Beirut, Lebanon.

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