Turkey approves moving Jamal Khashoggi murder trial to Saudi Arabia

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April 7 (UPI) — The trial of 26 men accused of the murder of Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi, was halted Thursday, and a Turkish court ruled the case can be moved to Saudi Arabia.

The 26 were being tried in absentia and are believed to be in Saudi Arabia. They are accused of killing and dismembering Khashoggi inside the Saudi Arabian embassy in Istanbul in 2018.

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In 2019, a United Nations investigation blamed his death on high-level Saudi officials, including Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Khashoggi was a long-time critic of the Saudi government.

Turkey initially strongly condemned the murder on its soil, but Thursday’s move is widely seen as a way to unthaw frosty relations between the two countries as Ankara continues to deal with soaring inflation.

At the end of March, Turkish prosecutors investigating the death of the late Washington Post columnist requested to move the trial to Saudi Arabia, where the suspects are believed to be.

At the time, the Turkish representative for Reporters Without Borders who attended the criminal hearing in Istanbul said prosecutors asked to stop the trial in lieu of the move.

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The court then turned the request over to Turkey’s Ministry of Justice for a response.

That response came Thursday in a move that could effectively end the case, although Turkish officials said they could choose to re-open it if not satisfied with the outcome in Saudi Arabia.

The next steps for the suspects remain unclear. Saudi Arabia has previously held some closed-door trials. In 2020, it sentenced eight people to between seven and 20 years in prison for Khashoggi’s murder.

Human rights groups condemned the move, as did Reporters Without Borders.

“Reporters Without Borders is deeply shocked by Istanbul High Criminal Court’s decision to send Jamal Khashoggi murder case to Saudi Arabia. This transfer dashes the remaining hopes of criminal justice for the 2018 assassination. [We] will keep on challenging by all means this unacceptable impunity,” the group said in a statement on its website.

Khashoggi’s former fiancee, Hatice Cengiz, also criticized the move, and her legal team told CNN they would appeal the decision, arguing the case would likely hit a dead end in Saudi Arabia’s justice system.