Starting at 10 am local time on 3 July in Istanbul’s main Çağlayan court, 20 Saudi nationals are expected to be tried in absentia in connection with the killing of Saudi columnist Jamal Khashoggi in the Consulate of Saudi Arabia in Istanbul on 2 October 2018. The Istanbul prosecutor has indicted two former Saudi officials on charges of inciting Khashoggi’s murder, and 18 other men on charges of carrying out the “deliberate and monstrous killing.” If convicted, they face possible life sentences; however the possibility of a full trial taking place is slim with the defendants not physically present in Turkey.
“Jamal Khashoggi’s assassination remains one of the most horrific crimes against a journalist that we have ever seen. Shocking, too, is the fact that nearly two years on, very little has been done to secure justice or hold the Saudi government to account, even as it now holds the G20 presidency. We hope the Istanbul proceedings will open not only a new route to justice, but will serve as a wake-up call to the international community on the urgent need to end impunity for Khashoggi’s murder and ensure better protections for journalists everywhere,” said RSF Secretary General Christophe Deloire.
The Turkish proceedings follow a trial held in secret in Saudi Arabia, in which 11 men were tried in connection with Khashoggi’s murder. Five of these men were sentenced to death, and three others received prison sentences. They were later publicly “forgiven” by Khashoggi’s sons, paving the way for their likely pardon and release. Khashoggi’s fiancée Hatice Cengiz, in contrast, has stated that “no one has the right to pardon his killers.” RSF does not support the death penalty in any instance. Saudi Arabia’s deputy public prosecutor has claimed the prosecution’s investigation showed that there was no premeditation to kill Khashoggi.
“This trial in Istanbul now represents the best hope for justice for Jamal Khashoggi following a blatant miscarriage of justice in the Saudi courts. We will be monitoring closely, and call for proceedings to be held in a transparent manner in full accordance with international due process standards,” said RSF Turkey representative Erol Önderoğlu.
UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary killings Agnès Callamard conducted an investigation and published a full report on Khashoggi’s killing, finding that he was the victim of a “deliberate, premeditated execution.” She later referred to the pardon of Khashoggi’s killers as “the final act of the parody of justice” in the Saudi courts. Callamard is expected to attend the opening of the Istanbul trial, as is Khashoggi’s fiancée Hatice Cengiz.
RSF has campaigned extensively for justice for Jamal Khashoggi and the release of 32 journalists currently unjustly jailed in Saudi Arabia, and raised these cases directly with the Saudi authorities in an unprecedented press freedom mission to Riyadh in April 2019. RSF has also campaigned extensively for an end to impunity for violence against journalists and the release of jailed journalists in Turkey.
Turkey and Saudi Arabia are respectively ranked 154th and 170th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2020 World Press Freedom Index.