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UN rapporteur says Turkey’s trial in absentia over Khashoggi killing ‘important formalized step’

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Agnès Callamard, the UN special rapporteur who authored a 2019 report concerning the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, said in İstanbul that the Turkish trial in absentia of 20 Saudi officials was an “important formalized step” in the search for justice, The Guardian reported.

“Before we had media reports, my own report … now we have moved the investigation into a formal setting completely different to the trial in Saudi Arabia, which did not have any legitimacy,” she said. “For the first time we have a number of those who carried out and commissioned the crime indicted … although not everyone is indicted,” she said, referring to Saudi Crown Prince Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Callamard on Friday renewed calls for an independent international investigation. The special rapporteur also expressed surprise that other countries had not sent representatives to observe the opening of the case and said she hoped the international community would come to bear witness in the next hearing on Nov. 24.

The US in particular had a role to play, she said. “The one country that has claimed to have real evidence of Mohammed bin Salman’s responsibility is the USA. So far Congress’s efforts to get to the bottom of what happened have been hampered by the White House.

“There is still a lot of information that has not been made public. Maybe after [the US] elections in November there will be a change in attitudes from the White House on this matter.”

The trial is being closely watched for new information or evidence into the killing and what happened to Khashoggi’s body, which has never been found.

“This has been an exhausting process both mentally and morally,” Hatice Cengiz, the Turkish fiancée of Khashoggi, told reporters outside the building after the three-hour hearing concluded.

While visiting the Saudi consulate in İstanbul in October 2018 to pick up paperwork for his marriage to Cengiz, a Turkish national, Khashoggi disappeared and was never seen again. After a series of shifting explanations, Riyadh eventually admitted the 59-year-old had been killed in what it says was an extradition operation gone wrong.

Prosecutors are seeking life in prison for 20 Saudis on charges of “premeditated murder with monstrous intent, causing torment” — 15 individuals accused of carrying out the killing, and a further five of planning it.

Turkish investigators have explored several lines of inquiry in trying to determine what happened to Khashoggi’s body. An indictment issued in March suggested that officials were now focusing on a large tandoor oven in the Saudi consul general’s residence.

Zeki Demir, an employee, testified that he was asked to come into work on the day Khashoggi disappeared to light the oven after five or six men he did not know and described as “guests” had failed to start it. After he made a joke about “falling in the tandoor and becoming kebabs,” the atmosphere in the room soured and he was asked to leave, he said. When he returned to work a few days later, the oven and its marble surrounds had been cleaned with bleach.

Turkish investigators allege that the oven is capable of reaching temperatures of 1,000 degrees Celsius, sufficient to remove any DNA evidence.

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