July 3, 2020

Opening of Khashoggi murder trial in Istanbul presents a new chance for justice

The start of Jamal Khashoggi’s murder trial in Istanbul has presented a new chance for justice for his October 2018 assassination. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) monitored the opening hearing, where eight witnesses gave testimony in the case against 20 Saudi nationals who have been indicted in connection with the journalist’s killing. The next hearing has been scheduled for 24 November.

RSF’s Turkey representative Erol Önderoğlu monitored the 3.5 hour hearing at Istanbul’s Çağlayan court on 3 July, during which Khashoggi’s fiancée Hatice Cengiz addressed the court and eight witnesses gave testimony. New details about the circumstances surrounding Khashoggi’s murder came to light, including testimony from consulate employees about what might have happened to his corpse. 

“It is an unusual situation when our only hope of justice lies with the Turkish courts, as many press freedom reforms are urgently needed within Turkey, but the opening of this trial is a positive step. We will continue to monitor proceedings closely and call for transparency and adherence to international due process standards,” said Önderoğlu.

The 20 Saudi nationals who have been indicted on charges of inciting or carrying out Khashoggi’s murder were tried in absentia, represented by lawyers appointed by the Istanbul Bar Association. The court ruled that the arrest warrants against the suspects would remain open until the next hearing, and it would refresh its correspondence with Interpol about the red notices Turkey had taken out. The court also issued a warning to witnesses who had failed to appear, compelling them to attend the next hearing.

UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary killings Agnès Callamard was in attendance, having called for the case to be tried in other jurisdictions - including Turkey - following the miscarriage of justice in the Saudi courts in December 2019. In contrast to the secret court process in Saudi Arabia, a handful of journalists were allowed into the hearing in Istanbul. No diplomatic monitors were present, despite calls from civil society groups for states to send representatives.

RSF Secretary-General Christophe Deloire has called Khashoggi’s assassination “one of the most horrific crimes against a journalist we have ever seen.” RSF remains committed to the pursuit of justice for Jamal Khashoggi and the release of the 32 journalists unjustly jailed in the country.

Turkey and Saudi Arabia are respectively ranked 154th and 170th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2020 World Press Freedom Index.