An Istanbul court began trying in absentia 20 Saudis on Friday, including two relatives of the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Mohammed bin Salman, accused by Turkish authorities of having killed and dismembered the editorialist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018.
If the accused risk in theory life imprisonment for “willful premeditated homicide with the intention of inflicting suffering”, the procedure is above all symbolic, because none of them is in Turkey.
Among the 20 accused, two are identified by Turkish investigators as the sponsors: an ex-adviser to the Saudi Crown Prince, Saoud al-Qahtani, and a former Intelligence number two, General Ahmed al-Assiri.
Khashoggi, a Washington Post contributor and critic of the Saudi regime after being close to it, was murdered and his body cut to pieces in October 2018 at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul where he went to retrieve a document.
Khashoggi was 59 years old at the time of his death. His remains have never been found.
The murder plunged Saudi Arabia into one of its worst diplomatic crises and tarnished the image of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, known as “MBS”, who had been designated by Turkish and American officials as the sponsor of the murder.
Khashoggi’s Turkish fiancée Hatice Cengiz and the United Nations special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, Agnes Callamard, were present at the hearing on Friday, according to an AFP correspondent.
Yasin Aktay, a close friend of Khashoggi and adviser to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, was also present.
– “Turn on the light” –
Prior to the trial, Ms Cengiz told AFP she hoped it would “shed light” on several shady areas that remain nearly two years after the murder, including the fate of the remains of Khashoggi.
It was Ms. Cengiz who gave the alert about the disappearance of her fiancé after waiting for several hours at the exit of the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
Turkish authorities carried out a major investigation: they watched hours of video surveillance footage, questioned dozens of people and searched the sewer system around the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
After denying the assassination and then putting forward several versions of the facts, Ryad claimed that it was committed by Saudi agents who allegedly acted alone and without receiving orders from their leaders.
Saudi justice has itself taken up the Khashoggi case. After an opaque trial in Saudi Arabia, five Saudis were sentenced to death and three others to prison terms for the murder, out of a total of 11 people charged.
No charges were brought against Mr. Qahtani and Mr. Assiri was acquitted.
The verdict delivered last December has been criticized by international human rights organizations.
Turkey called the verdict “scandalous”, saying that the real sponsors had enjoyed “immunity”.
Without going so far as to accuse MBS directly, Erdogan has repeatedly called for “trying all the culprits”.
“Jamal’s murderers and those who ordered them have avoided justice so far,” Cengiz said. “I will continue to exhaust all legal options to ensure that the murderers are brought to justice,” she added.
In late May, Khashoggi’s eldest son announced that the children of the murdered journalist “forgave” the murderers.