Khashoggi Murder: Turkey Tries More Than 20 Saudis In Absentia

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Twenty Saudi nationals have gone on trial in absentia in Turkey for the murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018.

Khashoggi, a prominent critic of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, was killed by a team of Saudi agents inside the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul.

The defendants include two former aides to the prince, who denies involvement.

Saudi Arabia, which rejected Turkey’s extradition request, convicted eight people over the murder last year.

Five were sentenced to death for directly participating in the killing, while three others were handed prison sentences for covering up the crime.

 

The Saudi trial was dismissed as “the antithesis of justice” by a UN Special Rapporteur Agnes Callamard, who concluded that Khashoggi was “the victim of a deliberate, premeditated execution” for which the Saudi state was responsible.

What happened at the trial?

Khashoggi’s Turkish fiancée, Hatice Cengiz, was one of those who testified at the opening session.

She later told journalists gathered outside the courtroom that she found the process spiritually and psychologically debilitating.

Ms Cengiz expressed confidence in the Turkish judicial system and declared: “Our search for justice will continue in Turkey as well as in everywhere we can.”

Another witness who gave evidence was Zeki Demir, a Turkish citizen who worked as a handyman at the Saudi consulate.

Mr Demir told the court that he was called to the consul general’s residence on the day Khashoggi disappeared and asked to light an oven used for barbecues.

“There were five to six people there,” he said. “There was an air of panic… It was as if they wanted me to leave as soon as possible.”

Mr Demir added that he returned to the residence a few days later and noticed how the marble around the oven had been bleached.

Ms Callamard, the UN Special Rapporteur who was also at the hearing, said: “We have not moved the killing of Jamal Khashoggi into a formal setting that the international community can recognise, because the trial in Saudi Arabia could not be given credibility and legitimacy.”

“Here for the first time, we have the hitmen being indicted and we have a number of those have commissioned the crime,” she added.

The next hearing will take place on 24 November.

On the surface of it, this may appear to some to be a largely pointless exercise for purely political ends.

None of the Saudi suspects are in court; none are ever likely to be extradited to Turkey to face justice; and Saudi Arabia has already held its own trial, in secret, last year, which was widely condemned as incomplete.

But for the UN special rapporteur, for the murdered journalist’s fiancée, and for his friends and relatives, this is a chance to get all the facts out into the open.

After all, it was the Turkish intelligence service that bugged the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, where the murder took place, so Turkey possesses the vital audio tape of the journalist’s last minutes before he was overpowered and killed.

There are, of course, political points to score here, too: Turkey and Saudi Arabia are regional rivals.

But those attending the trial’s opening believe it presents a fresh chance at revealing new and possibly damning evidence.

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