ISTANBUL (AP) – 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.
The decision comes despite warnings from human rights groups that handing over the case to the kingdom would result in a cover-up for the murder that has sparked suspicion of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
It also comes as Turkey, which is in an 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.
Last week, the prosecutor in the case recommended that the case be referred 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.
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.”
Kaghoggi, a US citizen writing for the Washington Post, was killed on October 2, 2018 at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, where he had gone to an appointment to collect documents needed to marry his Turkish fiancé, Hatice Cengiz were .
Turkish officials claim that Khashoggi, who wrote critically about the crown prince, was killed in the consulate and then dismembered with a bone saw by a team of Saudi agents dispatched to Istanbul. The group included a coroner, intelligence and security officials, and people working for the Crown Prince’s office. Khashoggi’s remains have not been found.