Turkey’s top court refuses to annul transfer of Khashoggi murder trial to Saudi Arabia

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)

Turkey’s Constitutional Court has ruled that a decision by an İstanbul court to transfer to Saudi Arabia of the trial in absentia of suspects involved in the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was “lawful,” the T24 news website reported on Friday. 

The top court found inadmissible an individual application filed by Khashoggi’s Turkish fiancée, Hatice Cengiz, saying the local court’s ruling was based on law.

In her application Cengiz demanded that the local court’s decision be vacated and that a retrial be held.

In a move that attracted international condemnation and dashed hopes about the possibility of justice for Khashoggi, the İstanbul 11th High Criminal Court on April 7, 2022 had confirmed a halt of the trial of 26 suspects linked to the murder of Khashoggi and its transfer to Riyadh in accordance with Article 24 of the Law on International Judicial Cooperation in Criminal Matters (Law No 6706).

The court ruling came a week after Justice Minister Bekir Bozdağ said he would green light a Turkish prosecutor’s request to that end.

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

Turkey’s opposition party leaders criticized the transfer. Releasing a video on Twitter at the time, main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu accused President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of “selling” Turkey’s national sovereignty by handing the case of Khashoggi’s murder over to Saudi Arabia. 

Rights groups revealed their serious concerns with Saudi Arabia’s criminal justice system, saying sending the case to Riyadh will result in another sham trial that fails to hold those responsible accountable. According to Freedom House, the decision was a travesty of justice and a victory for authoritarian impunity.

A Turkish court began the murder trial in 2020 with relations tense between Turkey and Saudi Arabia.

While 26 people were on trial in absentia in Turkey, judicial proceedings were held for 11 people in Saudi Arabia.

The Saudi Arabian Attorney General’s Office stated that no legal action could be taken against the 15 other suspects named by the Turkish court due to a lack of evidence.

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

Subsequently, Saudi Arabia sought unofficially to put pressure on Turkey’s economy, with a boycott on Turkish imports.

In 2021 Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu visited Riyadh to repair relations with the kingdom, with Turkey desperate for investment to help pull it out of an economic crisis.

Transferring the case to Riyadh removed the last obstacle to a normalization of ties between two countries.

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