Turkey’s justice minister said on Friday his ministry would approve a request to transfer a trial over the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi to Saudi Arabia, as Ankara seeks to mend ties with Riyadh.
Human rights groups condemned the move saying Saudi Arabia could not be expected to hold a fair trial.
Khashoggi’s killing at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul four years ago grabbed headlines worldwide and strained ties between the two regional powers, leading to an unofficial Saudi boycott of Turkish goods that has cut Ankara’s exports to Riyadh by 90 percent.
A Turkish prosecutor called on Thursday for the Istanbul trial in absentia of 26 Saudi suspects to be halted and transferred to Saudi authorities, who requested the transfer in a response to a letter from the Turkish court.
The court requested the justice ministry’s opinion on the issue and is expected to rule on the request at its next hearing, set for April 7.
The prosecutor said the defendants were foreign citizens, the arrest warrants could not be executed, and their statements could not be taken, leaving the case in abeyance or suspension.
“As the ministry, we will send a positive opinion there [today] regarding the transfer of the case,” justice minister Bekir Bozdag said on Friday.
Amnesty International Secretary General Agnes Callamard described the prosecutor’s request as “spineless”.
Bozdag said, however, should the case be moved to the kingdom, the Turkish court would evaluate any verdict reached by a Saudi court.
The Turkish judiciary would then drop the case if it is satisfied with the verdict reached in Saudi Arabia, or resume proceedings if the defendants are acquitted, state-run Anadolu news agency reported.
The trial’s transfer to Saudi Arabia “does not abolish the jurisdiction of the Turkish courts”, Anadolu quoted Bozdag as saying.
In 2020, Saudi Arabia jailed eight people for between seven and 20 years for Khashoggi’s murder. None of the defendants was named in what rights groups described as a sham trial.
A US intelligence report released a year ago said Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had approved the operation to kill or capture Khashoggi.
The Saudi government denied his involvement and rejected the report’s findings.
Turkish officials said they believe Khashoggi, a prominent critic of the crown prince, was killed and his body dismembered in an operation by Saudi agents.