A Turkish court has suspended the trial of 26 Saudi nationals accused of the gruesome killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and sent the case back to Saudi Arabia.
Washington Post journalist Khashoggi, a fierce critic of the Saudi regime and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, was killed on 2 October 2018 while visiting the consulate in Istanbul to retrieve papers to prove he was divorced from his ex-wife in Saudi Arabia.
The decision to transfer the case to Saudi comes after warnings from human rights groups that turning the case over to the kingdom would lead to a cover-up of the killing, which has cast suspicion on the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman.
The judge told the court: “We decided to halt and hand over the case to Saudi Arabia.”
Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag said last week that he would approve a Turkish prosecutor’s request to hand the case over to Saudi Arabia, at the latter’s demand.
The prosecutor said the case was “dragging” because, as the defendants were foreigners, the court’s orders could not be carried out.
Defence lawyer Ali Ceylan told the court on Thursday that there would not be a fair trial in Saudi Arabia.
“Let’s not entrust the lamb to the wolf,” he said, using a Turkish saying.
Another defence lawyer, Gokmen Baspinar, said that the justice ministry’s move was “against the law.”
“There is no prosecution going on in Saudi Arabia at the moment,” he said. “Saudi authorities have concluded the trial and acquitted many suspects.”
He said the decision to hand over the case to Riyadh would be tantamount to a “breach of Turkish sovereignty” and “an example of irresponsibility against Turkish people”.
The decision has deeply angered rights groups.
The Istanbul tribunal “agreed to transfer the case to the Saudi authorities — in one sentence, just like that. Didn’t even bother to state the lawyers’ requests are rejected,” Milena Buyum, of Amnesty International, said.
She tweeted: “Appalling and clearly political decision.”
Five people were sentenced to death by the kingdom over Khashoggi’s killing, but a Saudi court in September 2020 overturned the sentences, handing jail terms of up to 20 years to eight unnamed defendants following secretive legal proceedings.
Khashoggi’s fiancee Hatice Cengiz, who was present at the hearing on Thursday, said that she would appeal the decision.
Turkey “is not ruled by a family like in Saudi Arabia. We have a justice system that addresses citizens’ grievances,” she told journalists outside Istanbul’s main court.
“We will appeal the decision in line with our legal system”.
Speaking to AFP, she vowed to “continue to fight. Whoever gives up has given up. I will continue. Sometimes the legal battle itself is more important than the results.”