By theguardian |

Twenty Saudi officials to go on trial in absentia over Khashoggi killing

Twenty Saudi officials will go on trial in absentia in Turkey on Friday accused of the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, almost two years after his disappearance in Istanbul shocked the world and irreparably tarnished the image of Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman as a liberal reformer.

Khashoggi’s Turkish fiancee, Hatice Cengiz, and UN special rapporteur Agnès Callamard, waited for the judges to arrive in a courtroom at the imposing courthouse complex in Istanbul’s Çağlayan neighbourhood shortly before 10am (7am GMT) on Friday. Both women are hoping the trial will shed more light on the grim circumstances of the journalist’s death and reveal what happened to his remains.

Khashoggi, 59, was once a member of the Saudi elite, but broke rank after growing uneasy about the swift rise to power of Prince Mohammed. He moved to Washington DC, starting a new life as a columnist for the Washington Post.

He visited the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on 2 October 2018 to collect paperwork for his upcoming marriage to Cengiz, but never emerged from the building.

According to the Turkish indictment, based on analysis of phone and computer records, witness statements, investigators concluded that Khashoggi was strangled to death. Turkish investigators have also alleged that Khashoggi’s body was dismembered with a bone saw and then dissolved in acid on the consulate premises.

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A Saudi official opens the door in Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, 07 October 2018. Photograph: Erdem Şahin/EPA

The indictment issued in March by Istanbul prosecutors accuses two men in Prince Mohammed’s inner circle – former deputy head of Saudi Arabia’s general intelligence, Ahmed al-Asiri, and former royal court adviser Saud al-Qahtani, of instigating “premeditated murder with monstrous intent”. Turkey is seeking life imprisonment in all 20 cases.

Khashoggi’s gruesome killing stunned Saudi Arabia’s western allies, plunging the kingdom into its worst diplomatic crisis since the 9/11 attacks. It also irreversibly tarnished Prince Mohammed’s image as a liberal reformer after questions were raised over how such an operation could have been carried out without his consent or knowledge.

The CIA, along with several western governments, eventually concluded that the crown prince was involved in Khashoggi’s assassination. The kingdom has denied such claims, instead blaming rogue agents who it says took a repatriation mission too far.

Saudi Arabia has rejected Turkish calls for the suspects’ return to face trial in Turkey. In December last year a Saudi court sentenced five unidentified people to death over Khashoggi’s killing but in effect exonerated men close to Prince Mohammed.

The Saudi prosecutors also ruled that there had been no premeditation to kill at the beginning of the repatriation mission, a finding at odds with a UN inquiry published in June 2019 and the Turkish indictment.

Callamard, the UN special rapporteur who authored the inquiry into Khashoggi’s death but was barred from access to the secretive Saudi trial, called the ruling in Riyadh a mockery of justice.

The Turkish investigation has also been marred by accusations of bias: Ankara has used the killing to exert pressure on its Saudi regional rivals, drip-feeding lurid details to the media and sharing damning audio recordings of the murder with other governments.

Callamard and several rights groups have repeatedly called for an independent international investigation into the journalist’s death.


Jamal Khashoggi

Turkey Saudi Arabia Middle East and North Africa Press freedom Newspapers Washington Post news

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