Istanbul: A Turkish court on Thursday ruled to suspend the trial in the absence of 26 Saudi accused in the gruesome murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi and the transfer of the case to Saudi Arabia. Khashoggi, a United States resident who wrote scathingly about Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, was assassinated at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2, 2018. He had gone to the consulate for an appointment to collect the documents needed to marry his Turkish fiancée, Hatice Cengiz. He never left the building.

Turkish officials alleged that Khashoggi was murdered and then cut off a bone seen inside the consulate by a team of Saudi agents sent to Istanbul. The group included a forensic doctor, intelligence and security officials and individuals working for the Crown Prince’s office. His remains have not been found. The Istanbul court’s decision comes despite warnings from human rights groups that turning the case to statehood would expose the murder, which has cast doubt on the crown prince.

It also comes as Turkey, which is in the grip of a deep economic downturn, is trying to mend its troubled relations with Saudi Arabia and other countries in its region. Some media reports claimed that Riyadh had improved relations conditionally on Turkey to drop the case, which had escalated tensions between the two countries.

The move would pave the way for a resolution of disputes between the two regional giants since the 2011 Arab Spring, including Turkey’s support for Islamist movements such as the Muslim Brotherhood, which Riyadh considers a terrorist group. Turkey sided with Qatar in a diplomatic dispute that involved a boycott of Doha by Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Last week, the prosecutor in the case recommended that it be transferred to the state, arguing that the trial in Turkey would remain inconclusive. Turkey’s Minister of Justice supported the recommendation, saying that the trial in Turkey would resume if the Turkish court was not satisfied with the outcome of the proceedings in the state. However, it was unclear whether Saudi Arabia, which has already put some defendants on trial behind closed doors, would launch a new trial.

The court ruled to halt the trial in line with the “positive opinion” of the Ministry of Justice, the private DHA news agency reported. Human rights advocates urged Turkey not to transfer the case to Saudi Arabia, arguing that justice for Khashoggi would not be delivered by Saudi courts.

“It is a reprehensible decision,” said Emma Sinclair-Webb, Turkish director of New York-based Human Rights Watch, adding that the court had “rubber-stamped” a political decision that sought to help the government repair its ties with Saudi Arabia. will allow. Arab.

“In the interest of real politics, Turkey is ready to sacrifice justice for a serious crime on its soil,” she told the Associated Press. “The (decision) opens the way for other countries to commit killings on Turkish territory and get away with it.”

Khashoggi’s fiancee Cengiz said she would continue to demand justice. “We will continue this (judicial) process with all the power given to me as a Turkish citizen,” he told reporters outside the courthouse.

“Both countries are making a pact, both countries are opening a new chapter… but the crime is still the same crime,” she said. “The people who commit crimes have not changed. Governments and states should have a principled stand.”

At the time of the crime, Turkey had apparently scuttled the Saudi consulate and shared audio of the murder with the CIA, among others. The killing sparked international outrage and condemnation. Western intelligence agencies as well as the US Congress have said that an operation of such magnitude could not have taken place without the prince’s knowledge.

Turkey, which vowed to shed light on the brutal killing, began prosecuting defendants in absentia in 2020 after Saudi Arabia rejected requests for their extradition. The defendants included two former aides of the prince.

Some people were tried behind closed doors in Riyadh. A Saudi court issued a final ruling in 2020 that sentenced five middle-level officials and operatives to 20 years in prison. The court originally ordered the death penalty, but reduced the sentence after Khashoggi’s son Salah, who lives in Saudi Arabia, announced he had pardoned the defendants. Three others were sentenced to less prison terms.