A Turkish court on Tuesday added new defendants to the case against Saudi officials charged for the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, state media reported, in a trial that Ankara says is needed to reveal the full truth behind the killing. A witness, on the other hand, revealed the difficult situation that the journalist was in, as he reported the threats from the kingdom.
At Tuesday's hearing in Istanbul, only the second session of a trial that opened four months ago, the court accepted a second indictment adding six defendants to the list of 20 Saudi officials already being tried in absentia.
In September, a Saudi court jailed eight people for between seven and 20 years over the killing in a trial that critics said lacked transparency. None of the defendants' names were released to the public.
The latest indictment accuses a vice-consul and an attache of "premeditated murder with monstrous intent." The four others, also Saudi nationals, were charged with destroying, concealing or tampering with evidence.
Khashoggi – a royal family insider turned critic – was killed and dismembered at the kingdom's consulate in Istanbul in October 2018. A critic of the crown prince, the 59-year-old journalist was strangled and his body cut into pieces by a 15-man Saudi squad inside the consulate, according to Turkish officials. His remains have not been found.
Riyadh has described the murder as a "rogue" operation, but both the CIA and a United Nations' special envoy have directly linked Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) to the killing, a charge the kingdom vehemently denies.
Agnes Callamard, the U.N. special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, slammed the ruling as "one more act today in this parody of justice."
In a 101-page report published by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCR) in the summer of 2019, Saudi Arabia was held responsible for "deliberately" killing Khashoggi, noting that there is documented evidence for the investigation of senior officials, including MBS.
The court heard testimony from one witness, Egyptian opposition activist Ayman Noor, an Egyptian political dissident and a friend of Khashoggi's, before adjourning the case to March 4 and extending a process that has kept Khashoggi's killing in the public eye and further strained relations between Turkey and Saudi Arabia.
Noor told the court that Khashoggi had described to him being personally threatened by the Saudi media czar.
"Jamal said he had been threatened by Qahtani and his family," Turkish media quoted Noor as telling the court.
According to Noor, once Khashoggi visited MBS and as he was leaving the meeting, MBS summoned him back, asking him why he visits Turkey so often and meets with Noor.
"Jamal was surprised to hear that question. Then, during his next visit to Turkey, we have taken a picture with Jamal. Jamal shared that picture on Twitter as a response to Salman and wrote: 'We have been friends with Dr. Ayman Noor for 500 years,'" Noor said.
Yasin Aktay, a member of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) and an acquaintance of Khashoggi, said a just verdict could not have been expected from a Saudi court that was ruling on senior Saudi officials.
"The events actually transpired in Turkey. If we have a concern about justice, there is no other way than to have confidence in Turkish courts," he said after Tuesday's hearing.
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said it was disappointed by the court's rejection of its request to join the case as a civil party and would continue to closely monitor the case and call for adherence to international standards.
"It's time to end business as usual with Saudi Arabia. It's time to ensure justice for Jamal Khashoggi," said Rebecca Vincent, RSF director of international campaigns.
"Khashoggi spoke of a phone call from Qahtani when he was living in Washington DC, saying he knew his kids & where they lived," Vincent separately tweeted.
Khashoggi's fiancee Hatice Cengiz also attended Tuesday's hearing.
The first indictment accused two top Saudi officials, former deputy head of Saudi Arabia's general intelligence Ahmed al-Asiri and former royal court adviser Saud al-Qahtani, of instigating murder. Eighteen others were accused of carrying out the killing with "monstrous intent and torture." The 18 were in consensus over killing Khashoggi if he refused to return to Saudi Arabia and acted on the mutual decision to commit the crime, according to the indictment.
The indictment stated that one suspect, Mansour Othman M. Abbahussain, working as a major general and intelligence officer in Saudi Arabia, was tasked in MBS' office and was instructed by al-Asiri to bring Khashoggi back to the country or kill him if he resisted. It added that Abbahussain assembled a 15-man hit squad, including himself, for the murder.
He also distributed tasks among the squad, separating them into three groups: intelligence, logistics and negotiation.
Abbahussain also determined the place to meet Khashoggi as the working office at the Istanbul consulate and made plans for all contingencies before, during and after the deed.
The prosecutor sought aggravated life sentences for all, the harshest term in Turkey since it abolished the death penalty in 2002.
The indictment was based on analysis of the suspects' mobile phone records, records of their entry to and exit from Turkey, records of their presence at the consulate, witness statements and analysis of Khashoggi's phone, laptop and iPad, a statement by the prosecutor's office said.