Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has expressed deep concern about the request of a Turkish prosecutor to end legal proceedings in the prosecution of the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey and hand the case over to Saudi Arabia instead.
The development came as Turkey is seeking a thaw in relations with Saudi Arabia, which worsened after the 2018 killing of Khashoggi, a contributor to The Washington Post, inside the Saudi Consulate General in İstanbul.
In a statement on Thursday, RSF said the move would dash any remaining hope of criminal justice for the assassination of Khashoggi and urged the Turkish courts to do their part to fight impunity by seeing the Khashoggi case through.
During the latest hearing in the murder trial at the Çağlayan Courthouse in İstanbul on Thursday, the prosecutor said Saudi Arabia had officially asked to take over the case — a recommendation he supported, calling for the case to be handed over and the Turkish proceedings brought to a close.
The next hearing is set for April 7.
“The prosecutor’s request to close the court process in Turkey after 21 months of proceedings is extremely disappointing. Handing the case over to Saudi Arabia would be a serious blow to any remaining chance of criminal justice for Jamal Khashoggi’s killers. We urge the Turkish courts to do their part to fight impunity for this horrific crime by seeing this case through,” said RSF Turkey representative Erol Önderoğlu, who monitored the hearing.
Meanwhile, Turkey’s Justice Minister Bekir Bozdağ announced on Friday that his ministry would give a green light for the transfer of the Khashoggi murder case to Saudi Arabia. Bozdağ said the ministry would notify to the prosecutor’s office on Friday.
RSF is the only NGO to have observed the full proceedings in İstanbul, which opened in July 2020. Twenty-six defendants — all Saudi nationals — are being tried in absentia, with legal representation appointed by the İstanbul Bar Association.
RSF had applied to become a civil party to the case, but the application was rejected by the court in November 2020. In March 2021 the court rejected a request by Khashoggi’s fiancée Hatice Cengiz to accept into evidence a declassified US intelligence report naming Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman as responsible for approving Khashoggi’s murder.
Saudi Arabia held its own secretive trial in the case in 2020, which, according to RSF, failed to meet fair trial standards and made a mockery of justice.
Eight unidentified defendants were reportedly given sentences ranging from seven to 20 years in prison. A further three defendants were acquitted, including senior Saudi officials.
Turkey is ranked 153rd and Saudi Arabia 170th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2021 World Press Freedom Index.
On Oct. 2, 2018, 59-year-old Khashoggi entered the Saudi consulate in İstanbul to file paperwork to marry his Turkish fiancée.
According to US and Turkish officials, a waiting Saudi hit squad strangled him and dismembered his body, which has never been found.
The murder sparked international outrage that continues to reverberate, with Western intelligence agencies accusing Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of authorizing the killing.
The crown prince has said he accepts Saudi Arabia’s overall responsibility but denies a personal link, with the kingdom saying it was the doing of agents who had gone “rogue.”
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said at the time that the order to kill “came from the highest levels” of the Saudi government without pointing the finger of blame at the crown prince.