A Turkish court ruled as expected on Thursday to halt the trial of Saudi suspects over the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and transfer it to Saudi Arabia, a decision that comes as Ankara seeks to mend ties with Riyadh.
Last week the prosecutor called for the Istanbul trial in absentia of 26 Saudi suspects to be transferred to Saudi authorities. Turkey’s justice minister later said the government would approve the request, which was condemned by rights groups.
Khashoggi’s fiancee Hatice Cengiz and rights groups have said Saudi Arabia could not be expected to hold a fair trial.
Khashoggi’s killing at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul four years ago grabbed headlines worldwide and strained ties between the two regional powers, leading to an unofficial Saudi boycott of Turkish goods that has cut Ankara’s exports to Riyadh by 90%.
Amnesty International secretary general Agnes Callamard, who carried out a U.N.-led investigation that found Saudi officials “planned and perpetrated” the killing, described the move as “spineless”.
In 2020, Saudi Arabia jailed eight people for between seven and 20 years for Khashoggi’s murder. None of the defendants were named, in what rights groups described as a sham trial.
A U.S. intelligence report released a year ago said Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had approved the operation to kill or capture Khashoggi. The Saudi government denied his involvement and rejected the report’s findings.
Turkish officials said they believe Khashoggi, a prominent critic of the crown prince, was killed and his body dismembered in an operation President Tayyip Erdogan said had been ordered at the “highest levels” of the Saudi government.
But Erdogan now seeks better ties with states which had become bitter rivals in recent years, including Egypt, Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.
Israeli and UAE leaders visited Ankara in recent months, but progress with Cairo and Riyadh has been slower. Erdogan said last month he hoped to take “concrete steps” with Riyadh soon.