Jamal Khashoggi killing: Turkey’s trial of Saudi suspects resumes

Jamal Khashoggi killing: Turkey’s trial of Saudi suspects resumes

An activist wears a mask with the image of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia during a protest outside the Saudi embassy in Washington, DC in 2018 [Jacquelyn Martin-AP]

A Turkish court will resume the trial on Tuesday in the absence of 20 Saudi officials for the gruesome murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Khashoggi, a 59-year-old Washington Post columnist and a prominent critic of the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), was last seen entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2, 2018. , where he had gone to obtain documents for his impending wedding to his Turkish fiancee, Hatice Cengiz.

The journalist was killed at the consulate and his body was reportedly dismembered and removed from the building. His remains have never been found.

The murder sparked international outrage and tarnished MBS’s image.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said that the order to assassinate Khashoggi came from “the highest levels” of the Saudi government, but has not directly blamed MBS.

Saudi Arabia said Khashoggi was killed in a “rogue operation” by agents and that the crown prince has denied ordering it.

Last year, a United Nations investigation found that high-level Saudi officials had carefully planned and backed the assassination.

The accusation

Following an investigation, Turkish prosecutors in March charged Saud al-Qahtani, MBS’s former senior adviser, and Ahmad al-Asiri, Saudi Arabia’s former deputy intelligence chief, of incitement to first-degree murder.

Another 18 Saudi nationals were charged with first-degree murder. Prosecutors are seeking life sentences for all defendants.

All the defendants left Turkey and Saudi Arabia has refused to extradite them. “Red notice” arrest requests have been issued through Interpol for the 20 men.

The indictment included evidence from phone records and CCTV footage of the suspects and 54 witnesses were named, including 26 Turkish staff from the consulate and the consul’s residence.

Agnes Callamard, a United Nations expert on extrajudicial killings, has said the accusation was a “counterweight to the farce of justice at the hands of Saudi Arabia.”

In September, a Saudi court overturned the death sentences imposed on five defendants after a closed-door trial in Saudi Arabia last year and sentenced them to 20 years in prison.

A Saudi prosecutor had said there was no evidence connecting al-Qahtani to the murder and dismissed the charges against al-Asiri.

Turkish judgment

Cengiz testified at the opening session of the trial in Istanbul on July 3.

“[Khashoggi] he was called to that consulate with great treason and deceit, “said Cengiz.

Several members of the consulate staff were called as witnesses, including local technician Zeki Demir, who described an “air of panic” at the consulate on the day of the murder and said he had been asked to “light the oven” before leaving.

Turkish court-appointed defense lawyers said they had been unable to communicate with their clients.

The trial was postponed until November 24, when more witness testimony will be heard.

In September, Turkish prosecutors named six new Saudi nationals in a second indictment, linked to the alleged cover-up of the murder, to be combined with the continuation of the trial.

Erol Onderoglu, a representative for Reporters Without Borders in Turkey, told Al Jazeera that it was vital to ensure justice for Khashoggi and that the case lead to better international protection mechanisms, such as a UN special representative for the safety of journalists.

“It is important that the international community create concrete steps to prevent such horrible cases in the future.”

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