The Turkish court decided on Thursday (7) to suspend the trial of Saudi suspects in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi so that he can proceed in Saudi Arabia.
The decision has been condemned by human rights groups and comes as the Turkish government seeks to strengthen ties with the Saudi regime.
The move, however, was expected after the prosecutor in charge of the Khashoggi case last week asked that the trial in absentia of 26 Saudi suspects be transferred from Istanbul to Riyadh. The order has been endorsed.
The journalist’s murder in the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul four years ago generated global repercussions and pressure on the crown prince of the Saudi monarchy, Mohammed bin Salman – also called MBS.
Turkish officials said they believed Khashoggi, a prominent critic of the prince, was killed and dismembered in an operation that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said was ordered at the “highest levels” of the Saudi regime.
This fifth decision therefore marks a sharp change from the trial that began in 2020. “To take the decision to suspend is against the law because the decision to acquit the defendants in Saudi Arabia has already been finalized,” said Gokmen Baspinar, a lawyer representing Hatice Cengiz, bride of Khashoggi.
“The fact that the trial is being transferred to a country where there is no justice is an example of irresponsibility against the Turkish people,” he added.
Before the prosecution’s request was accepted, the NGO Human Rights Watch already saw the decision as problematic. “It would end any possibility of justice [para Khashoggi] and would reinforce the Saudi authorities’ apparent belief that they can get away with murder,” said Michael Page, the organization’s deputy director for the Middle East.
A US intelligence report released last year concluded that Prince Mohammed had approved the operation to kill or capture Khashoggi. The regime denies any involvement by MBS and rejects the report’s findings.
The assassination on Turkish territory and the subsequent accusations soured relations between Turkey and Saudi Arabia and led the Saudis to an unofficial boycott of Turkish products – which represented a 90% drop in exports from Ankara to Riyadh.
Since last year, however, the Turkish government has been trying to heal the wounds in the relationship, in part out of a desire for investments that can boost the economy.
In March, Erdogan said Turkey had a “positive dialogue” with Saudi Arabia and wanted to take concrete steps to deepen ties. Afterwards, the foreign ministers of the two countries met and agreed on a rapprochement.