The prosecutor in the case against 26 Saudi nationals charged in the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi has made a surprise request that their trial in absentia be suspended and the case be transferred to Saudi Arabia.
The panel of judges made no ruling on the prosecutor’s request but sent a letter to Turkey’s Justice Ministry seeking its opinion on the possible transfer of the file to the Saudi judicial authorities, according to the state-run Anadolu Agency. The trial was adjourned to a later date.
The prosecutor’s request comes as Turkey has been trying to normalise its relationship with Saudi Arabia, which reached an all-time low following Mr Khashoggi’s grisly killing.
His murder at the consulate also sparked international condemnation and cast a cloud of suspicion over Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Mr Khashoggi, a Saudi national who was a United States resident, had walked into his country’s consulate in Istanbul on October 2 2018 for an appointment to pick up documents that would allow him to marry his Turkish fiancee. He never walked out.
Turkish authorities said he was killed by a team of Saudi agents who had flown to Turkey to meet Mr Khashoggi inside the consulate.
Those on trial in absentia include two former aides of the prince.
The defendants all left Turkey, and Saudi Arabia rejected Turkish demands for their extradition. Some of the men were put on trial in Riyadh behind closed doors. Mr Khashoggi’s family members later announced they had forgiven his killers.
Prior to his killing, Mr Khashoggi had written critically of Saudi Arabia’s crown prince in columns for the Washington Post.
Amnesty International urged Turkey to press ahead 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.
Mr Beyhan said he did not want to “think about the possibility” that the prosecutor’s request may be related to the improving ties between Riyadh and Ankara.
“Basic human rights… should not be made the subject of political negotiations,” he said. “A murder cannot be covered up to fix relations.”