Turkish court halts Khashoggi murder trial, transfers case to Saudi Arabia
A Turkish court has halted the trial of Saudi suspects over the gruesome killing of prominent dissident and journalist Jamal Khashoggi and approved transfer of the case to Saudi Arabia, a decision that has drawn condemnation from rights groups.
“We decided to halt and hand over the case to Saudi Arabia,” the judge told the court on Thursday.
The ruling came a week after Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag approved a Turkish prosecutor's request to hand the case over to Saudi Arabia.
Khashoggi’s killing inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul back in October 2018 raised a global outcry and put pressure on Saudi Arabia's de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS).
Hatice Cengiz, Khashoggi's Turkish fiancée, depicted the court’s ruling as “political.”
"The case was slowly coming to a halt in previous hearings... and I had begun to grow hopeless but I did not expect such a decision,” she said, adding that she would appeal the court's decision.
“Saudi Arabia is a country where we know there is no justice. No one expects a just decision there,” she added.
Defense lawyer Ali Ceylan told the court that there would not be a fair trial in Saudi Arabia.
“Let's not entrust the lamb to the wolf,” he said, referring to a Turkish saying.
Another defense lawyer, Gokmen Baspinar, said 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 amounts to a “breach of Turkish sovereignty” and “an example of irresponsibility against Turkish people.”
The Turkish court’s ruling marks a sharp U-turn in the trial that began in 2020, especially after officials insisted that Turkey needed to handle the case itself to serve justice.
The ruling comes as Turkey seeks to mend its relations with Saudi Arabia, with Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu visiting Riyadh last year to mend fences with the kingdom.
The murder and subsequent accusations strained ties between Istanbul and Riyadh and led to an unofficial Saudi boycott of Turkish goods, which cut Ankara's exports to Riyadh by 90 percent.
Khashoggi was murdered four years ago, when he entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to obtain a document stating that he was divorced, so that he could marry his Turkish fiancée.
Recording and other evidence gathered by Turkish authorities revealed how a team of Saudi agents subdued, killed and then dismembered the journalist inside the diplomatic mission.
Saudi Arabia initially issued conflicting stories about Khashoggi’s disappearance, but eventually said that he was killed in a “rogue” operation.