Turkish prosecutors issue second indictment against suspected Khashoggi killers

Six Saudi nationals join a growing list of accused as Turkey's trial takes on an international dimension.

al-monitor People hold posters picturing Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi and lightened candles during a gathering outside the Saudi Arabia consulate in Istanbul, on Oct. 25, 2018. Khashoggi, a Washington Post contributor, was killed on Oct. 2, 2018, after a visit to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to obtain paperwork before marrying his Turkish fiancee. Photo by YASIN AKGUL/AFP via Getty Images.
Joe Snell

Joe Snell

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Khashoggi

Sep 28, 2020

Turkish prosecutors issued a second indictment on Monday in connection with the 2018 murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul. Six new Saudi nationals were named in the indictment, which was sent to court to be combined with the country’s larger ongoing trial.

Turkey’s case against Khashoggi’s killers began, to the surprise of some experts, in July after there was speculation a trial could not exist without the suspects present. The proceeding is the third wave of action into the murder after a Saudi trial and a more extensive UN investigation wrapped up last year.

The case has quietly taken on an international dimension as Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan seems to welcome coverage of the case and use the trial as a tool against his major regional rival, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The second indictment comes less than one week before the Oct. 2 anniversary of Khashoggi’s visit to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018.

“The constant reminder of this case, of this murder, such as with this second indictment, is a way for Erdogan to better his own position vis-a-vis the Saudi monarchy,” said Project on Middle East Democracy Turkey coordinator Merve Tahiroglu.

Khashoggi was a Saudi journalist and fierce critic of Salman. In October 2018, he was last seen at the Saudi consulate, which he visited in order to obtain documents for his upcoming wedding. Turkish officials believe his body was dismembered and removed from the building, although his remains have not been found.

There are two layers to this case. One is charging the individuals directly associated with the murder, and the second is linking individuals to the murder’s cover-up. Monday’s second indictment is more focused on individuals involved in the cover-up of the murder; it will be combined with the larger case.

Three probes have so far been conducted. A trial by Saudi Arabia concluded last year as it overturned five death sentences and jailed eight Saudi nationals. The proceedings were criticized by international rights organizations for failing to provide transparency or hand down punishments that fit the crime.

“The Saudi process was anything but justice,” said UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions Agnes Callamard to reporters outside the Istanbul Court House, where the first hearing of the Khashoggi case was held. 

A separate UN investigation into the killing cited 19 individuals associated with the death. And in March, Turkey indicted 20 Saudi nationals, many names overlapping with the UN investigation, on charges of murder and incitement to murder. “Red notices” were issued via Interpol as Turkey requested those listed in the indictment be handed over. Saudi Arabia has so far not granted Turkish investigators access to those accused.

The case was not likely headed to trial, some experts at the time believed, because a Turkish law demands the presence of defendants for trial. Despite this, Turkey’s trial commenced in July, and the men are being tried in absentia. The next session will resume in November.

Now, a Turkish judiciary — itself criticized for going after its own opponents — will be the primary means for truth-telling.

“It is pretty ironic, given how politicized Turkey’s judiciary actually has become in the last few years and the heavy crackdown that the judiciary has facilitated against Turkish dissenters and opposition and critics of President Erdogan,” Tahiroglu said. “It is a bit tragic that the mechanism for actually obtaining justice for Khashoggi is now left in the hands of the Turkish judiciary, given its own problems.”

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