Turkish prosecutor calls for suspension of Khashoggi murder trial

A Turkish prosecutor called for the suspension of a case against 26 Saudi nationals accused of murdering Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.

The case should be transferred to Saudi Arabia, the prosecutor said, according to the state-run Anadolu news agency. A panel of judges presiding over the trial made no decision on the request, instead ordering that a letter be sent to the Justice Ministry for its opinion.

The prosecutor said that arrest warrants for the suspects could not be executed and therefore statements by the defence could not be taken. The trial of the suspects in absentia was adjourned until April 7.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is seeking to normalise relations with Saudi Arabia, which hit an all-time low after Khashoggi disappeared after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October 2018.

Erdoğan is seeking to improve ties with key regional countries and to obtain capital and investment for Turkey’s fragile economy, which endured a currency crisis late last year. Erdoğan and his governing Justice and Development Party (AKP) are up for re-election by June 2023 at the latest.

Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said on Thursday that major steps were being taken to fix relations. The authorities in Saudi Arabia were being more cooperative on judicial matters with Turkey, he said in an interview with A Haber. He did not expand on the statement.

Turkish officials say that Khashoggi, who is a Saudi national, was dismembered with a bone saw inside the consulate. His body has never been found. Khashoggi was a fierce critic of the Saudi Arabian authorities and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. He also had close ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, which is banned in the country.

The people on trial in absentia include two former aides of the crown prince. Turkey decided to press on with the trial of the suspects even after Saudi Arabia rejected requests for their extradition.

The murder of Khashoggi sparked an international outcry and much sympathy for the attempts by Turkey to get to the bottom of the murder and bring the perpetrators to justice. Western intelligence agencies say Khashoggi’s murder could not have occurred without the crown prince’s knowledge.

Human rights group Amnesty International urged Turkey to press on with the trial.

“If the prosecutor’s request is granted, then instead of prosecuting and shedding light on a murder that was committed on its territory... Turkey will be knowingly and willingly sending the case to a place where it will be covered up,” said Tarik Beyhan, Amnesty’s campaign director for Turkey, according to the Associated Press.

Beyhan said he did not want to “think about the possibility” that the prosecutor’s request may be connected to improving relations between Saudi Arabia and Turkey.

 “A murder cannot be covered up to fix relations,” he said.

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