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A terrible precedent: Turkey transfers Khashoggi trial to Saudi Arabia

Last Thursday, April 7, a Turkish court suspended the trial of Saudi suspects for the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi that happened four years ago. The trial is now transferred to Saudi Arabia, leading to a public outcry by civil rights organizations. The twenty-six suspects all still reside in Saudi Arabia, where they could be acquitted. At the least, they will face a trial that is heavily influenced by Saudi Arabia’s rulers, who according to U.S. intelligence, approved Khashoggi’s murder back in October 2018.

Court proceedings slowed over the years

For years, Turkish authorities attempted to have the Saudi suspects extradited which was constantly denied by Saudi authorities. In the wake of Khashoggi’s murder, Turkey’s relation with Riyadh plummeted – as Turkish authorities blamed Mohamed Bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler of consenting in Khashoggi being murdered.

Proceedings in the case slowed considerably over the years. In 2020, Saudi Arabia jailed eight people between seven and twenty years in what rights organizations see as a sham trial. Other suspects were not extradited to Turkey.

Turkey’s bid to improve regional ties

Lately, Turkish relations with Saudi Arabia thawed. Turkish President Erdogan tries to re-strengthen ties with various regional countries, such as Armenia, Israel, the UAE and Saudi Arabia. Amid an economic crisis and skyrocketing inflation, Turkey can use all diplomatic ties to spur its economy through foreign trading. After the Khashoggi murder, Turkey’s exports to Saudi Arabia fell with 90%. The Gulf kingdom is an importer of various Turkish goods, and with its massive oil-reserves, is an important potential partner in the region.

“No justice possible in Saudi Arabia”

Hatice Cengiz, Khashoggi’s fiancée – who was waiting outside the consulate where he was murdered – said to be “surprised” and “saddened” by the “political” verdict. “The case was slowly coming to a halt in previous hearings… and I had begun to grow hopeless but I did not expect such a decision. Saudi Arabia is a country where we know there is no justice. No one expects a just decision there.”

Human rights organizations slammed the decision to transfer the case back to Saudi Arabia. Michael Page, Human Rights Watch’s deputy Middle East director said that “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. 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.”

Court proceedings in the U.S

Saudi Arabia’s crown prince Mohamed Bin Salman tries to rehabilitate his image worldwide by keeping the Khashoggi case out of the public eye. Multi-million dollar PR and lobbying campaigns are set up to boost his image. However, in the U.S., a final federal court case is pending, filed by Cengiz. Saudi Arabian ties with the US have cooled since the Biden administration commenced – and pressure from Riyadh on the White House will mount to halt court proceedings. While Donald Trump considered giving immunity to Bin Salman in another lawsuit for the killing of intelligence official Saad al-Jabri in Canada – days after Khashoggi’s murder – Biden does not seem inclined in doing so.

As for Turkey, its rule of law is currently subordinated to politics. Its president wants to re-invigorate ties with Saudi Arabia, therefore accepting the impunity and injustice around the horrendous murder of Jamal Khashoggi. Sadly, natural resources and capital assets mean political power in some spheres of international relations, and Saudi Arabia’s economic leverage over other countries means their rulers can apparently get away with murder. For other regimes worldwide, this may set a terrible precedent.

Sources: Reuters DW HRW Al Jazeera Middle East Eye

Photo: WikiMedia Commons