The cases of 26 Saudis accused in the killing of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey will be moved to their home country after a Turkish court on Tuesday suspended their in-absentia trial, The Associated Press reported.
Kashoggi was killed in 2018 at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, where the U.S. resident was picking up documents to marry his Turkish fiancee. Turkish officials said Kashoggi, who had written critically about Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, was killed and dismembered by a team of Saudi agents who ambushed him at the routine appointment. His body was never found.
Human rights groups are warning that moving the case to the kingdom will lead to a Saudi cover-up, the AP reports. Multiple international outlets have suggested that Turkey has been under pressure to drop the case as a condition of establishing better relations with the Saudis, a dynamic that has been strained by diplomatic and other disputes since the 2011 Arab Spring uprising.
Turkish prosecutors recommended the venue change, suggesting that a verdict in Turkey would not settle the matter — a position supported by the Turkish justice minister, who added that Turkey could take the case up again if it’s not satisfactorily resolved in Saudi Arabia.
It was not clear when, or whether, the courts in Saudi Arabia hold new trials. The AP reported that the Saudi government had not responded to the decision.
Turkey had surveillance equipment in the consulate at the time of the killing, evidence it shared with the CIA and other intelligence and justice entities. Keshoggi’s death brought fiery outrage and suggestions that the Saudi prince must have had knowledge of the plot.
Turkey began prosecution with the defendants in-absentia, including two former aides of the prince, after Saudi Arabia rejected its extradition requests. Some of the men were tried by the Saudis in secret, including five mid-level operatives who each were given 20-year sentences.