The fiancee of slain Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi vowed Thursday to keep fighting for justice.
Her comments came as a Turkish court ruled to halt the trial of 26 Saudis charged in the killing and transfer the case to Saudi Arabia.
Khashoggi was killed during a visit to the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul in October 2018 to collect documents required to marry Hatice Cengiz.
Speaking to reporters after the hearing Thursday, Cengiz said she would appeal the case.
“We will not give up just because the judicial process has taken such a decision now,” Cengiz said. “I will continue with the legal process as much as I can.”
The trial began in absentia in 2020 after Saudi Arabia rejected requests from Turkey to extradite the defendants.
But last week, Turkey’s justice minister agreed to a prosecutor’s request to suspend the trial, based on the argument that the absence of defendants obstructed it. The minister added that the trial could return if Turkey was not satisfied by the outcome in Saudi Arabia.
Arrest warrants for the defendants, including two aides to the Saudi Crown Prince, were lifted.
The Turkish court has granted lawyers seven days to appeal.
In a separate trial, a Saudi court in 2019 convicted eight people in connection with the killing but did not identify them. The trial was seen widely by the international community as a sham.
Gokmen Baspinar, Cengiz’s lawyer, told the Turkish court that many defendants in the Saudi case had been acquitted.
“We filed a lawsuit in Ankara against the opinion of the Justice Ministry. There is a request for a stay of execution, and we should wait for its outcome,” Baspinar added.
Turkey and Saudi Arabia do not have a mutual legal assistance treaty, so the Khashoggi case will be the first transfer of a legal case, Baspinar said.
Khashoggi, a U.S. resident, was a vocal critic of the Saudi royal family.
A State Department spokesperson, responding to VOA on background, said Thursday that the U.S. has “been clear that the murder of Jamal Khashoggi was a heinous crime,” adding, “We believe we have taken important steps to address a tragic situation.”
The Turkish court’s decision comes as Turkey and Saudi Arabia, two regional powers, are trying to improve relations.
Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN), a U.S.-based organization founded by Khashoggi, said the ruling “represents a brazen and cynical attempt by the Turkish government to curry favor with Saudi Crown Prince MBS [Mohammed bin Salman] and the Saudi government.”
“The Turkish government has jettisoned the rule of law for purely political considerations, ceding to those Saudi officials who planned and carried out Khashoggi’s murder the responsibility of sitting in judgment of themselves,” Michael Eisner, DAWN’s general counsel, told VOA.
In October 2020, DAWN filed a lawsuit with Cengiz in federal district court in Washington, seeking damages against the crown prince and more than 20 other Saudi officials allegedly involved in the killing of Khashoggi.
Eisner said that lawsuit “represents the last and best hope to exact some measure of justice for the brutal murder of Khashoggi.”
A U.S. intelligence report concluded that the Saudi crown prince “approved an operation in Istanbul, Turkey, to capture or kill Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.”
In a TV interview, the prince said that as a leader he accepted responsibility for the killing but that he denied ordering it.
Path to justice
Stephane Dujarric, U.N. spokesperson, told VOA Thursday, “The secretary-general [Antonio Guterres] has consistently called for accountability in the murder of Jamal Khashoggi.”
But rights advocates say transferring the case to Saudi Arabia means justice will not be served.
“It’s a dark day for Turkey and the search for justice,” said Milena Buyum, a senior campaigner on Turkey for Amnesty International. “The Khashoggi murder is a murder that has been revealed with all its details. It was necessary to ensure that everyone responsible was brought to justice.”
Justin Shilad of the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists said in a statement that Turkey’s trial “was politicized from the start, but the decision to transfer his [Khashoggi’s] case to Saudi Arabia extinguishes any hope of reaching an impartial conclusion based on the evidence.”
Turkish authorities repeatedly said they would pursue the case until the perpetrators were brought to justice.
Buyum told VOA that “today’s decision was the opposite of that.”
“It has become clear that it will not be possible to reach justice from here,” she said. “It is not possible to say what kind of result the appeals will bring, but I am not too hopeful.”
VOA’s Senior Diplomatic Correspondent Cindy Saine in Washington and VOA Turkish Service’s Hilmi Hacaloglu in Istanbul contributed to this report.