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Turkey begins Court Trial in the death of Jamal Khashoggi

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A trial has begun in Turkey over the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi indicting 20  Saudi personals by the Turkish court over charges of killing  Jamal Khashoggi. The trial began on the 2nd of July 2020, nearly two years after the assassination of the journalist inside the Saudi consulate.

Who was Jamal Khashoggi?

Jamal Khashoggi was a prominent Saudi journalist who was a strong critic of Saudi crown prince Muhamad bin Salman. He went to self-imposed exile in the USA in 2017 where he wrote 20 articles for the Washington Post that were critical of the Saudi Crown.

He was last seen entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey on 2 October 2018 where he went to get his divorce document so that he could marry his Turkish fiancee, Hattice Cengiz.

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For two weeks, Saudi Arabia insisted Khashoggi had left the building alive. But the Turkish authority pressed on the fact that they had audio recordings evidence that he has been killed inside the consulate.

After more than two weeks of denials, amid global outcry and pressure over the case, Saudi Arabia eventually admitted that he had been killed within the consulate in what officials called a “rogue operation” and has vowed to punish “those responsible”.

What happened at the court?

The Turkish fiancee of slain journalist Khashoggi, Hatice Cengiz gave her testimony in the court at the opening session.

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Ms. Cengiz said the Washington Post columnist was deceived into entering the consulate.

She said all those with knowledge of the homicide should be called for trial, along with those who gave orders for the attack.

She later said to the journalists present outside the courtroom that the trail was spiritually and psychologically debilitating.

Ms. Cengiz expressed confidence in the Turkish judicial system and declared: “Our search for justice will continue in Turkey as well as in everywhere we can.”

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Another witness who gave evidence was Zeki Demir, a Turkish citizen who worked as a handyman at the Saudi consulate.

Mr. Demir told the court that he was called to the consul general’s residence on the day Khashoggi disappeared and asked to light an oven used for barbecues.

“There were five to six people there,” he said. “There was an air of panic… It was as if they wanted me to leave as soon as possible.”

Mr. Demir added that he returned to the residence a few days later and noticed how the marble around the oven had been bleached.

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117 pages indictment prepared for 20 fugitive Saudi suspects. Credit: UN report

Who are the defendants?

The indictment filed by Turkish prosecutors accusing Saud al-Qahtani, a former senior adviser to Crown Prince Mohammed, and Ahmad Asiri, Saudi Arabia’s former deputy intelligence chief, of “instigating a premeditated murder with the intent of [causing] torment through fiendish instinct”.
The 18 other defendants are charged with carrying out “premeditated murder with the intent of [causing] torment through fiendish instincts”.

Court-appointed Turkish lawyers representing the defendants said their clients denied the charges.

None of the Saudi suspects was in court; none are ever likely to be extradited to Turkey to face justice; and Saudi Arabia has already held its trial, in secret, last year, which was widely condemned as incomplete.

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Who was involved?

The supposed involvement of the Saudi crown prince Mohammad Bin Salman aka MBS  in the killing of journalist Khashoggi faced a stringent backlash from its western allies.

The Turkish Intelligence services had bugged the Saudi consulate where the murder took place and released a  purported audio recording to local and international media which corroborated the involvement of top Saudi official Saud al-Qahtani, a former close aid to the MBS, is believed to have sanctioned the operation and Ahmad Asiri, Saudi Arabia’s former deputy intelligence chief is believed to have executed the assassination.

Saud al-Qahtani(L)  close adviser to MBS and Ahmad Asiri, Saudi Arabia’s former deputy intelligence(R)In an interview with CBS, The Saudi crown prince MBS denied his involvement saying that neither he nor his second-in-command had any prior knowledge of the operation to assassinate Jamal Khashoggi.

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In a closed-door hearing, the Saudi courts have sentenced the death penalty to 5 people while three were sentenced with life imprisonment. Although the Saudi officials have not revealed the identity of any of the convicts in the killing of Khashoggi.

Saudi Arabia’s public prosecutor said the murder was ordered by the head of a “negotiations team” sent to Istanbul to bring Khashoggi back to the kingdom “by means of persuasion” or, if that failed, “by force”.

The public prosecution concluded that Khashoggi was forcibly restrained after a struggle and injected with a large amount of a drug, resulting in an overdose that led to his death. His body was then dismembered and handed over to a local “collaborator” outside the consulate. The Body of Jamal Khashoggi was never found.

In the trial held by Saudi Arabia, public prosecution said Mr. Asiri was tried but acquitted due to insufficient evidence, and that Saud al-Qahtani was investigated but not charged.

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The Saudi trial was dismissed as “the antithesis of justice” by a UN Special Rapporteur for Extrajudicial killings Agnes Callamard, who concluded that Khashoggi was “the victim of a deliberate, premeditated execution” for which the Saudi state was responsible.

Khashoggi’s son Salah, who lives in Saudi Arabia, said in May that he and his brothers were “pardoning those who killed our father, seeking reward from God almighty”. That effectively granted the accused a formal reprieve under Saudi law.

But for the UN rapporteur, the fiancee,  family and friends, and the world this trial is a chance to get everything out in the open.

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