On 23 November, the fifth sitting in the murder trial of slain Saudi columnist Jamal Khashoggi‘ will take place at Istanbul’s Çağlayan Court.
In the last two hearings, the court rejected requests by Khashoggi’s fiancée Hatice Cengiz to accept into evidence the declassified US intelligence report, which was published early this year and holds Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman responsible for approving Khashoggi’s murder. In both hearings, the judge stated that the report “would bring nothing to the trial,” and Cengiz was told to take the request directly to Istanbul’s Prosecutor General.
In the case, which started on 3 July 2020, there are 26 defendants on trial in absentia — all Saudi nationals. So far, the court has heard the testimonies of several witnesses, including three Turkish employees of the Consulate of Saudi Arabia where Khashoggi was murdered on 2 October 2018.
As the only NGO that has consistently monitored these proceedings from the start, “RSF views the ongoing proceedings as a positive step by the Turkish judiciary. However, the fact that the prosecution and the court have not yet pursued any possible traces linking the murder to the Saudi Crown Prince is worrisome to the prospects of justice being served, and calls into question whether the Turkish judiciary will indeed be able to ensure justice free from any political influence “ said RSF’s representative in Turkey, Erol Onderoglu.
Following the publication of the declassified US intelligence report on Khashoggi’s murder, RSF filed a criminal complaint in Germany against Mohammed bin Salman and four other high ranking Saudi officials for crimes against humanity committed in their widespread and systematic persecution of journalists, including Jamal Khashoggi.
Politically adjusted justice
On 24 November, just one day after the next hearing in the Khashoggi murder trial, the case of the well-known Kurdish intellectual and Özgür Gündem newspaper columnist Musa Anter‘s murder will be heard in court in Ankara. In the case of Musa Anter, who was gunned down in Diyarbakır in September 1992, justice has not been served for 29 years and there is less than a year left until the statute of limitations is reached.
In fact, the previous statute of limitations had been circumvented in 2012. After 20 years of inaction, the authorities saved the case at the last moment -in a gesture to the Kurdish political movement at the start of historic peace talks with the PKK. But the judicial process has stopped since the talks were cut short in 2015. One of the main suspects, former special agent Mahmut Yıldırım, cannot be found. Former double agent Abdülkadir Aygan, who fled to Sweden, has still not been questioned. Former auxiliary Hamit Yıldırım, the only suspect who was arrested in 2012, was released conditionally in June 2017.
The Turkish state recognised its involvement in Anter’s murder and expressed its regret in 1998, but nonetheless, justice is still unlikely to be rendered. The Anter murder case serves as a concrete indication that the judicial process in Turkey has been politically influenced, considering both the timing of the developments in the investigation and the timing of procrastination.
RSF urges the Turkish judiciary to ensure justice in the Anter case, free from the influence of any political agenda. In Turkey, where nearly 40 journalists have been killed or disappeared since the 1990s, impunity for crimes against journalists remains a common problem. Complete impunity still prevails in about 20 murders that occurred in southeastern Anatolia from 1990 to 1996. In others, the collaborators, instigators or planners of the murders have not been brought before the judge.
Turkey is ranked 153th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2021 World Press Freedom Index, and Saudi Arabia is ranked 170th.