Jamal Khashoggi's fiancee hopes the trial will shed light on the whereabouts of his body, which was never found.
A Turkish court has opened the trial on Friday of 20 Saudi officials indicted over the 2018 killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a step his fiancee hopes will shed more light on his death and reveal where his body was hidden.
The fiancee of Khashoggi has told a Turkish court on Friday that the Washington Post columnist was lured to his death at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul through “a great betrayal and deception,” and she asked that all persons responsible for his killing be brought to justice.
Hatice Cengiz spoke at the opening of the trial in absentia of two former aides of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and 18 other Saudi nationals who were charged in Turkey for Khashoggi’s grisly slaying. The journalist's 2018 killing at the consulate sparked international condemnation and cast a cloud of suspicion over the prince.
The 20 Saudi defendants all left Turkey, and Saudi Arabia rejected Turkish demands for their extradition. Some of the men were put on trial in Riyadh behind closed doors. The proceedings were widely criticised as a whitewash. Khashoggi’s family members later announced they had forgiven his killers.
The indictment by Istanbul prosecutors accuses the former deputy head of Saudi Arabia's general intelligence, Ahmed al Asiri, and former royal court adviser Saud al Qahtani of instigating "premeditated murder with monstrous intent," the prosecutor's office said in March.
The October 2018 attack at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul prompted widespread revulsion, left a mark on relations between Ankara and Riyadh, and tarnished the prince's international image. Some Western governments, as well as the CIA, have said they believed he ordered the killing, an accusation Saudi officials denied.
Rights campaigners hope that the Istanbul trial will throw a fresh spotlight on the case and strengthen the argument for sanctions against Riyadh or the use of universal jurisdiction, which could lead to the suspects' arrest if they travel abroad.
"Justice in these complex environments is not delivered overnight," Agnes Callamard, UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, told Reuters on the eve of the trial.
"But a good process here can build up (evidence for) what can happen in five years, in 10 years, whenever the circumstances are stronger."
Body still missing
Khashoggi was last seen entering the consulate seeking documents for his impending wedding. Turkish officials said his body was dismembered and removed from the building. His remains have not been found.
"I hope this criminal case in Turkey brings to light the whereabouts of Jamal's body (and) the evidence against the killers," his fiancee Cengiz, who was waiting for him outside the consulate on the day of his killing, said.
When asked whether Saudi Arabia would cooperate with the Turkish legal proceedings, the kingdom's United Nations ambassador said Riyadh asked Ankara to share evidence with Saudi investigators but received no response.
In December, a Saudi court sentenced five people to death and three to jail for Khashoggi's killing after a largely secretive trial. Khashoggi's family later said they forgave his murderers, paving the way for their formal reprieve.
Cengiz said neither the trial nor the pardon followed due process. "No one can take the 'trial' that took place in Saudi Arabia legitimately; it was done in secret and the individuals sentenced are unnamed," Cengiz said.
Turkey has accused Saudi officials of obstructing investigations, while Riyadh repeatedly said the Istanbul prosecutor has not complied with requests to share information.
Prince Mohammed has denied ordering the killing but said he bore ultimate responsibility as the kingdom’s de facto leader. Saudi Arabia initially denied any involvement in or knowledge of Khashoggi’s death but later changed its position several times.