ISTANBUL (AFP) — A Turkish court trying 26 Saudi suspects in absentia for the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi on Thursday refused to admit a U.S. report blaming the kingdom’s crown prince for the killing.
An Istanbul court is trying two close former aides of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in a case that has gained added attention after the delayed release last week of the declassified U.S. assessment of the October 2018 events.
Khashoggi was an insider-turned-critic who wrote for The Washington Post when he was killed and dismembered inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul after going there to get documents for his wedding to Turkish fiancée Hatice Cengiz.
Cengiz and a German diplomat attended the third hearing in the trial.
Turkish prosecutors allege that former Saudi deputy intelligence chief Ahmed al-Assiri and the royal court’s ex-media czar Saud al-Qahtani led the operation and gave orders to a Saudi hit squad.
The declassified U.S. report said Washington had grounds to conclude that Prince Mohammed “approved” the operations since it fit a pattern of him “using violent measures to silence dissidents abroad.”
Cengiz asked the Istanbul court to add the U.S. report to the evidence case file.
But the presiding judge rejected her petition on the grounds that it “will bring nothing” to the trial.
The judge did allow Cengiz to file a new request with prosecutors spearheading the Turkish government’s case.
The U.S. report “directly attributes responsibility to the crown prince. Therefore, we want this to be taken into account by the court,” Cengiz told reporters after the hearing.
Locked in a room
Thursday’s hearing took witness testimony from two Turkish employees of the Saudi consulate — a driver and a security guard.
Driver Edip Yilmaz said he and his colleagues were locked in a room by the consulate’s security team and not allowed to leave until further notice on the day of Khashoggi’s murder.
“It gave me the impression that something abnormal was going on,” the driver told the court.
Khashoggi’s death and subsequent disappearance of his body has gravely tarnished Prince Mohammed’s image and plunged Riyadh into a diplomatic crisis.
The kingdom now says the 59-year-old was killed in an unauthorized operation.
Five suspects who were sentenced to death in an opaque trial in Riyadh last year later had their sentences commuted to 20 years in jail.
Relations between Ankara and Riyadh deteriorated sharply in the immediate aftermath of Khashoggi’s death.
But Turkey has been taking steps to mend its relations with Saudi Arabia as it looks for regional allies and has refrained from commenting on the declassified US report.
Erol Onderoglu, Turkish representative for the media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF), suggested that diplomatic calculations might have influenced the court’s decision.
“Our concern is that the court has taken a more passive stance… because of strategic relations or the state of diplomatic relations,” Onderoglu told reporters.
“We hope that this is not the case.”
The next hearing has been scheduled for July 8.
by Gokan GUNES
© Agence France-Presse