Today is the first anniversary of the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi dissident journalist who was brutally killed at the kingdom's consulate in Istanbul last year. Causing an international crisis that turned all eyes toward Saudi Arabia, especially to the country's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), as the probable perpetrators of the crime, the incident is still awaiting justice, with the whereabouts of Khashoggi still unknown. According to experts, the international community, particularly Turkey, has left no avenue unexplored to bring those responsible to justice and yet the kingdom's uncooperative stance continues to be the obstacle that prevents the international audience from uncovering answers. "When we look at Saudi Arabia's attitude from the very beginning, I can say that even having a trial is a miracle at this point," said Ferhat Ünlü, a journalist who has covered the Khashoggi case since the beginning.
Though initially suspicious of whether there was an actual trial in Saudi Arabia, Ünlü said currently his suspicions have eased, and he even believes that someone will probably be handed the death penalty, someone with no ties to MBS. "We see [during the trials] that the suspects give statements that are designed to overshadow the role of MBS [in this crime]. As long as things are not tied to MBS in the end, I believe that we might see some death penalties in the future. The recent statement of MBS also proves that," Ünlü said. According to a PBS documentary broadcast this week, MBS, the kingdom's de facto ruler, said he is taking responsibility since it happened under his watch.
Although the statement was thought to be fit what a leader in such a situation should say, the fact that it comes a year late and that he has not spoken publicly this year about this issue raised the questions of his sincerity with the move.
Initially denying and later downplaying the incident as an accidental killing in a fistfight, Riyadh finally admitted almost three weeks after his disappearance that Khashoggi was murdered in a premeditated act but denied any involvement of the royal family.
The incident was blamed on lower-level officials, including five who are now facing the death penalty for their involvement. A Saudi public prosecutor said in late March that they would seek the death penalty for five suspects among the 21 involved in the case. Ankara said Riyadh's statement is not satisfactory and demanded genuine cooperation.
Saudi trials nothing but a "sham"
However, according to Elias Lopez, the editor of Global Opinions at The Washington Post, where Khashoggi was once a contributor, the ongoing trials in Saudi Arabia are nothing but a "sham."
"Saudi Arabia has not done nearly enough to clear what happened and to punish those responsible. They are still an enemy of freedom of expression. They must behave openly and transparently if they want that perception to ever change," he said. In Lopez's opinion, in order to get justice for the issue Saudi Arabia needs to allow international observers to see the trials. "They must allow international investigators to interrogate those accused. And they must also be allowed to examine any evidence they are presenting in their courts. Those trials are currently a sham. We don't even know who is on trial – considering the international sensitivity of this crime," he said, indicating that there's information that the real perpetrators are still free. Khashoggi's body has still not been recovered, and the kingdom has remained silent on its whereabouts.
"From the moment our colleague, friend and contributor Jamal Khashoggi entered the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2 of last year, the government of Saudi Arabia has lied about what truly happened," Lopez reminded.
"They have denied and put up road blocks to find out the truth – everything we know has come from other sources and they have been forced to admit the horrible crime," he added.
Regarding MBS' latest statements on the case, Lopez underlined that he does not find them "sincere" as "there has been no real justice and accountability in this brutal murder."
The U.N. human rights expert who conducted an independent probe into the murder of Khashoggi, Agnes Callamard, said in a report previously that the state of Saudi Arabia was responsible for the murder. The report also found "credible evidence" that linked MBS to the killing of Khashoggi. The rapporteur noted she had received no cooperation from Riyadh and minimal help from the U.S.
The CIA also concluded last October that MBS ordered the assassination of Khashoggi. However, Trump disputed the CIA report and told reporters: "The CIA points it both ways. Maybe he did, maybe he didn't," a phrase he had used in a controversial statement released on the incident. When a reporter asked who should be held responsible for the killing, Trump responded, "Maybe the world should be held accountable cause the world is a vicious place."
MBS has political responsibility over the case
According to Ünlü, MBS' involvement should be taken into account – more specifically his political responsibility since he was not actually at the crime scene and since "these things can only happen via political order."
"In order for such names, from the head of forensic evidence to an aide of the crown prince, to come together, they need to receive a political order. There is no way that such people would take personal initiative to come together and commit such a crime," Ünlü said, reiterating that although MBS claims to take responsibility, he still did not admit that he was the perpetrator, making his statement insufficient.
Although justice seems out of the picture so far, in Lopez's opinion, the international community and journalists all over the world must still keep up the pressure. "Sanctions and information have allowed us to learn what we know so far – nothing is pointless. Seeking truth and justice can never be pointless," he highlighted.
"A consciousness has been achieved in public opinion in the international realm over various issues," Ünlü also said, giving the example of the war in Yemen, which Khashoggi was covering, witnessing the brutalities of Saudi kingdom every day. So far, despite wide media coverage, the international community, especially the U.S., has not sided with justice from the beginning, though the CIA and U.N. have issued reports on the case.
Some members of U.S. Congress from both the Republicans and Democrats have demanded that the U.S. administration take a stronger stance against the kingdom. The murder of Khashoggi is not the only issue that disturbs critical members in Congress; the heavy toll on the civilians in Yemen, where a Saudi-led coalition is battling Iran-backed Houthi rebels, is another major issue. Back in April, legislation to impose sanctions on Saudi officials was proposed by lawmakers to the Senate. However, the Senate did not approve the legislation.
Turkish intelligence proved itself despite lack of support
Still, according to Ünlü, despite lacking support from the U.S., Turkey, alongside its security forces and intelligence, has proven its commitment to the case.
"Turkey has done very well without almost any support. World consciousness could have done much better, but still, Turkey has done its best," Ünlü said, adding that the incident was actually a "plot" to cause trouble for Turkey that would have succeeded had Ankara not uncovered many of the crime's details.
Soon after his disappearance, the 58-year-old journalist's Turkish fiancee, colleagues and several Turkish officials voiced concerns that he was murdered in the consulate. Turkish authorities ruled out Saudi claims that he walked out of the building, which was supported with falsified security records and footage. Ankara also shared audio recordings from the time of the murder, in addition to footage and information on the 15-man hit squad's arrival and departure. "It is one of the biggest intelligence successes of Turkey," he expressed, adding that if MBS takes responsibility today, it is partly thanks to Turkey's efforts. "The incident showed the difference of being a clan state and being a well-rooted state," he said, underscoring that he does not believe any other murders have had a more influential impact on the history of diplomacy. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has brought the topic up at all international platforms since the murder, and his remarks have influenced international public opinion.
Turkey called on Saudi Arabia for collaboration to uncover the truth while contacting many countries and international institutions. Lots of countries and international institutions issued a call for the clarification of the murder and punishment for those behind the killing.
Still, Lopez thinks Turkey may have further information on the case, which should be released. "Turkey must also release the audio and any other information it has about the murder. The authorities there have cooperated with investigators and offered important clues, but the world needs to see all the evidence," he said.
Secret tapes reveal horror of Khashoggi's murder
A year ago when dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was brutally murdered by an assassination squad in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, there was something unknown by Saudi officials. The consulate was bugged by Turkish intelligence, and the planning and the execution were all recorded. The tapes have only been heard by very few people. Two of those people spoke exclusively to the BBC's Panorama program. British barrister Baroness Helena Kennedy is one of those two who listened to Khashoggi's dying moments. "The horror of listening to somebody's voice, the fear in someone's voice and that you're listening to something live. It makes a shiver go through your body," Kennedy said.
"You can hear them laughing. It's a chilling business. They're waiting there knowing that this man is going to come in and he's going to be murdered and cut up," she added. Kennedy was invited to join a team headed by Agnès Callamard, the U.N.'s special rapporteur for extrajudicial killing.
Callamard, a human rights expert, detailed her determination to use her own mandate to probe the killing, when the U.N. proved reluctant to mount an international criminal investigation.
It took her a week to persuade Turkish intelligence to let her and Kennedy, along with their Arabic translator, listen to the tapes.
"The intention clearly on the part of Turkey to give me access was to help me prove planning and premeditation," she said. They were able to listen to 45 minutes, extracted from recordings made on two crucial days. Callamard's report for the U.N.
Kennedy said the revelations of the Khashoggi murder tapes must be acted on. "Something treacherous and terrible happened in that embassy. The international community has a responsibility to insist on a high-level judicial inquiry," she said. Also, according to information obtained by TRT World, chemical cleaning was carried out by the Saudi team to cover up the murder. Despite efforts to conceal the evidence, police investigations were able to identify locations where Khashoggi's body fluids were present, including his sweat and blood.
Anadolu Agency book tells story of Khashoggi murder
A book compiled and publicized last January by Anadolu Agency (AA) depicts detail-by-detail the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul nearly a year ago. AA has been presenting to readers all the developments that transpired during and after the incident via its news reports, photos, videos and an informative book about the murder. The 66-page book is AA's 46th publication and was released to the international public in January 2019 in English, Arabic and Turkish. Beginning with the life of Khashoggi, the publication recounts all stages of the Khashoggi murder, allegedly perpetrated by a Saudi hit team in their country's consulate in Istanbul. The introduction is on Khashoggi's background, work and views.
Furthermore, it sheds light on the perpetrators of the murder and hit squads from Saudi Arabia, with their photos and backgrounds. In addition to reactions by international leaders after the murder, the book also includes a family tree of the Saudi royal dynasty.
In the foreword of the book, AA Director General Şenol Kazancı said Turkey carried out intense and successful diplomatic efforts to illuminate the murder and reveal those responsible. Kazancı underlined that while grieving for the loss of colleague Khashoggi, AA bore the responsibility and objectivity of a news agency, sharing the developments related to Khashoggi's killing both with Turkey and the global community.
Noting that all news stories, photos, infographics, analyses and developments related to Jamal Khashoggi had been collected in the booklet, he said: "I underline that this work, issued as a symbol of loyalty to our colleague Jamal Khashoggi, is an indicator that we will not forget and make others forget the murder. I'd like to thank all those who contributed to the booklet."
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