Handing case of Khashoggi murder to Saudi Arabia reveals deterioration of rule of law in Turkey: Freedom House

Turkish writer Hatice Cengiz (R), fiancée of Saudi journalist and dissident Jamal Khashoggi, poses next to a portrait of Khashoggi after unveiling it on the National Mall in Washington, DC., on October 1, 2021, during a memorial ceremony marking the third anniversary of his murder at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. (Photo by Nicholas Kamm / AFP)

In a statement issued on Friday, the Washington, D.C.-based Freedom House said Turkey’s decision to hand the case of journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s murder to Saudi Arabia is a travesty of justice and indicative of the deterioration of the rule of law in Turkey.

A Turkish court on Thursday confirmed a halt of the trial in absentia of 26 suspects linked to the murder of Khashoggi and its transfer to Riyadh.

“Turkey’s decision to transfer the trial of Jamal Khashoggi’s alleged murderers to Saudi Arabia, a nation without an independent judicial system and whose leader has been directly linked to the case, is not only a gross miscarriage of justice, but is also indicative of the deterioration of the rule of law in Turkey,” said Michael J. Abramowitz, the president of Freedom House. “This decision likely violates the Turkish constitution and criminal code, and it will certainly lead to the denial of justice for Khashoggi in the wake of his heinous murder. This is a purely political decision that degrades the dignity of Turkey and the rule of law and effectively confers impunity on the Saudi regime.”

Khashoggi was murdered in an act of transnational repression that was likely orchestrated by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Freedom House said.

The 59-year-old journalist was killed inside the Saudi Consulate General in Istanbul on October 2, 2018 in a gruesome murder that shocked the world.

A Turkish court began the trial in 2020 with relations tense between the two Sunni Muslim regional powers.

But with Turkey desperate for investment to help pull it out of an economic crisis, Ankara has sought to heal the rift with Riyadh.

The judge told the court, “We have decided to halt the trial and hand the case over to Saudi Arabia.”

The court decision comes almost a week after Justice Minister Bekir Bozdağ said he would greenlight a Turkish prosecutor’s request to hand the case over to Saudi Arabia, at the demand of the latter.

Five people were sentenced to death by the kingdom over Khashoggi’s killing, but a Saudi court in September 2020 overturned the verdicts while handing down prison sentences of up to 20 years to eight unnamed defendants following secretive legal proceedings.

To Riyadh’s dismay Turkey pressed ahead with the Khashoggi case, and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had at the time said the order to kill him came from the “highest levels” of the Saudi government.

In the years that followed, Saudi Arabia sought to unofficially put pressure on Turkey’s economy, with a boycott of Turkish imports.

Last year Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu visited Riyadh to repair fences with the kingdom.

The transfer of the case to Riyadh removes the last obstacle to normalizing ties.

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