HRW calls on Turkey not to transfer Khashoggi trial to Saudi Arabia

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Human Rights Watch (HRW) called on the Turkish government on Wednesday to reverse a plan approved by the justice minister and rubber-stamped by a court decision later on Thursday to transfer the case regarding the murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi to Saudi Arabia.

An İstanbul court on Thursday issued its formal ruling granting the prosecutor’s request on March 31 to transfer the case.

“Transferring the Khashoggi trial from Turkey to Saudi Arabia would end any possibility of justice for him, and would reinforce Saudi authorities’ apparent belief that they can get away with murder,” said Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at HRW.

“The Turkish authorities should reverse their decision and not contribute any further to entrenching Saudi impunity by handing over the Khashoggi case to the very people implicated in his murder.”

A Saudi court sentenced eight lower-level operatives found responsible for the murder to prison terms of seven to 20 years in a trial that lacked transparency. A Dec. 31, 2021 Guardian investigation concluded that at least three of those convicted in the case were living and working “in seven-star accommodation” inside a government-run security compound in Riyadh.

The Saudi authorities failed to arrest the most senior officials accused of involvement in the plot to target Khashoggi, including the former royal court adviser, Saud al-Qahtani, and the deputy intelligence chief, Ahmed al-Assiri, merely announcing their resignations.

Agnes Callamard, the former special rapporteur for extrajudicial executions and now Amnesty International secretary-general, noted on June 19, 2019, when she released the findings of her investigation into the killing, that the mission to execute Khashoggi required “significant government coordination, resources and finances.” Callamard determined that there was credible evidence warranting further investigation of high-level Saudi officials, including Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, for their role in the murder.

HRW said by indicating that it is willing to transfer the Khashoggi case to Saudi Arabia for trial, the Turkish government is reversing earlier statements calling for an international investigation into his murder.

In November 2018 President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said the murder was “premeditated” and that the order to kill Khashoggi came from the “highest levels” of the Saudi government. Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu also told parliament at the time, “We will do whatever it takes to bring the murder to light.”

Given the complete lack of judicial independence in Saudi Arabia, the role of the Saudi government in Khashoggi’s killing, its past attempts at obstructing justice and a criminal justice system that fails to satisfy basic standards of fairness, the chances of a fair trial for the Khashoggi case in Saudi Arabia are close to nil, HRW said.

A 2018 US intelligence report concluded that Mohammed bin Salman approved the murder. HRW has called for the US to impose sanctions available under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act on officials at the highest levels of Saudi leadership, including the crown prince.

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