Hatice Cengiz, the fiancée of murdered journalist Jamal Kashoggi, at the opening of the trial in absentia for suspects in Turkey, July 3, 2020. - AP Photo / Emrah Gurel

The accused risk in theory life imprisonment for "willful premeditated homicide with the intention of inflicting suffering" ... but the procedure is above all symbolic, since none of them is in Turkey. An Istanbul court began on Friday to try - in absentia, therefore - 20 Saudis, including two close to the crown prince of Saudi Arabia Mohammed bin Salman, accused by the Turkish authorities of having killed and dismembered the editorialist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018.

Among the 20 accused, two are identified by Turkish investigators as the sponsors: an ex-adviser to the Saudi Crown Prince, Saoud al-Qahtani, and a former Intelligence number two, General Ahmed al-Assiri.

"Message to dictators"

Khashoggi's Turkish fiancée Hatice Cengiz, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, Agnès Callamard, as well as the Representative in Reporters Without Borders (RSF) Turkey, Erol Onderoglu, were present at the hearing on Friday.

“We have confidence in Turkish justice. Now the legal process has started. We will continue our quest for justice, here in Turkey and everywhere else, by all means possible, ”she told reporters after the hearing. It was she who gave the alert on the disappearance of her fiancé after waiting for several hours at the exit of the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

A large Turkish survey

Turkish authorities carried out a major investigation: they viewed hours of video surveillance footage, questioned dozens of people and searched the sewer system around the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

After denying the assassination and then putting forward several versions of the facts, Riyadh claimed that it was committed by Saudi agents who allegedly acted alone and without receiving orders from their leaders.

"Sham Justice" in Saudi Arabia

Saudi justice has itself taken up the Khashoggi case. After an opaque trial in Saudi Arabia, five Saudis were sentenced to death and three others to prison terms for the murder, out of a total of 11 people charged. No charges were brought against Qahtani and Assiri was acquitted.

The verdict delivered last December has been criticized by international human rights organizations. Turkey described the verdict as "scandalous", saying that the real sponsors had enjoyed "immunity". Without going so far as to accuse MBS directly, Recep Tayyip Erdogan has repeatedly called for "trying all the culprits". “The procedure in Saudi Arabia was anything but justice. It was a sham of justice, "said Agnès Callamard, the UN rapporteur, to the press.

The body burned on the spot?

The Istanbul trial sends "a strong message to dictators around the world that they cannot kill a journalist and get away with it," she added. She said the Saudi Crown Prince should also be included in the indictment, stressing that he had "criminal responsibility", the level of which remains to be determined in the course of the assassination.

During the hearing Friday, the judges notably heard the testimony of Hatice Cengiz and a Turkish employee of the residence of the Saudi consul in Istanbul.

According to Agnès Callamard, this employee explained that he had been called to the residence on the day of the murder to light a large oven which is in the garden "where four or five" guests "were already present". "When he returned three days later, he discovered that the marble around the kiln had been laundered." Several Turkish media have speculated that Khashoggi's body, dismembered after the murder, may have been burned in this oven.

The next trial hearing is scheduled for November 24.

  • Saudi Arabia
  • Turkey
  • Assassination
  • Jamal Khashoggi
  • World