- The process is mostly symbolic, as no defendant is in Turkey.
- Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has, on several occasions, called for the “trial of the guilty.”
- The UN, in a damning and forensic report, stated that the Saudi Crown Prince needed to be investigated over the murder.
A court in Istanbul has kicked off the trial of 20 Saudis today. They are accused by Turkish authorities of the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018. Two of the accused are considered close associates to the heir to the Saudi Arabian throne, Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman.
Among the 20 people accused of “intentional manslaughter to inflict suffering,” Turkish investigators identified two organizers of the murder: a former aide to the Crown Prince, Saud al Qahtani, and former Saudi intelligence number two, General Ahmed al Assiri. Although the accused are at risk of life imprisonment, the process is mostly symbolic, as no defendant is in Turkey.
Khashoggi, a then-popular journalist who worked for the Washington Post, was murdered and dismembered in October 2018 inside the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul. Khashoggi was a supporter-turned-critic of the Saudi regime. He had gone to collect a Saudi document indicating that he was a divorced man so as to facilitate his marriage to his Turkish fiancée, Hatice Cengiz.
The murder provoked one of the worst diplomatic crises in Saudi Arabia’s history and shook the image of the Crown Prince, known by the acronym “MBS.” Turkish and American authorities named him as the person who gave the orders for the murder.
After denying the murder several times, and presenting contradictory versions, Riyadh acknowledged that the crime was committed by Saudi agents who acted on their own, and without orders from higher authorities.
Khashoggi’s Turkish fiancée and the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, Agnès Callamard, were present at Friday’s hearing. Cengiz, in reaction to the court proceedings, said she was hopeful that the trial “brings to light the whereabouts of Jamal’s body, the evidence against the killers and the evidence of those behind the gruesome murder.”
She told AFP before the trial, “I will continue to pursue all legal avenues to hold Jamal’s killers accountable and I will not rest until we get justice for Jamal.”
Without directly accusing MBS, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has, on several occasions, called for the “trial of the guilty.” Khashoggi was 59. His remains were never found.
The Khashoggi murder occasioned an opaque trial in Saudi Arabia, which ended with the sentencing of five Saudis to a death penalty last year. However, no charges were filed against Qahtani, and Assiri was acquitted. Turkey called the Saudi decision “scandalous,” considering that the real organizers of the crime benefit from immunity.
The UN, in a damning and forensic report, stated that the Saudi Crown Prince needed to be investigated over the murder, as there was “credible evidence” that he had a hand in the killing. In a 100-page UN analysis of what happened to the dissident journalist, Callamard described the death of Khashoggi as “an international crime.”
“It is the conclusion of the special rapporteur that Mr. Khashoggi has been the victim of a deliberate, premeditated execution, an extrajudicial killing for which the state of Saudi Arabia is responsible under international human rights law,” Callamard said at the time.