Thursday’s decision, in an Istanbul criminal court, was a stunning reversal by Turkey, which in the years after the killing of Khashoggi in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul went to extraordinary lengths to publicize the Saudi government’s role in the plot. More recently, though, Erdogan’s government has tried to improve ties with the kingdom as Turkey weathers one of its worst economic crises in decades.
The court ruling was roundly criticized Thursday by human rights groups as well as Hatice Cengiz, Khashoggi’s fiancee, who first alerted the world following the journalist’s disappearance after he entered the Saudi Consulate on an October afternoon. In the years since, she has traveled around the globe, speaking to parliaments, politicians and the news media in her quest to hold the perpetrators accountable.
“We are not going to give up just because of a legal judgment,” she told reporters outside the massive Istanbul court complex Thursday. “We cannot continue as if nothing happened.”
Much is known about what happened to Khashoggi, thanks to Turkey. Before his death, Khashoggi was contributing columns to The Washington Post, some of which were sharply critical of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler.
Turkey released recordings, surveillance footage and other material revealing that a team of Saudi operatives had traveled to Istanbul and waited for Khashoggi, then killed and dismembered him. His remains were never found. Erdogan, who called Khashoggi a friend, appeared outraged, saying that the killing was ordered at the “highest levels” of the Saudi government.
The kingdom, which faced worldwide condemnation over the killing, held its own trial behind closed doors but never named the suspects it was prosecuting. It announced in September 2020 that eight people had been convicted, but it has yet to provide any evidence that anyone has been imprisoned or that any high officials have faced punishment.
“The transfer of this file to a country where there is no justice is an example of irresponsibility against the Turkish people,” Gokmen Baspinar, a lawyer representing Cengiz, said in court Thursday, referring to Saudi Arabia. His colleague, Ali Ceylan, asked the judge to “protect the honor and dignity of the Turkish nation” by refusing to send the trial to the Saudis.
“Let’s not entrust the lamb to the wolf,” he said.