The IPI global network denounces the decision by Turkish authorities to transfer the murder trial of slain Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi to Saudi Arabia – a move that is all but certain to ensure those responsible for his brutal killing will continue to elude justice. We call once again on the international community to hold Saudi Arabia accountable for Khashoggi’s murder and to bring the rampant epidemic of impunity for attacks against journalists to an end.

The decision to transfer the trial which was requested by Turkish prosecutors, approved by Turkey’s justice minister, and confirmed by a Turkish court today comes as Turkish authorities have sought to cool diplomatic tensions between Turkey and Saudi Arabia, which had escalated since the start of Khashoggi’s murder trial in Istanbul. Prosecutors in Turkey brought charges in absentia against 26 Saudi nationals for the murder of the journalist, who was killed and dismembered after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October 2018.

Investigations by the U.N. and U.S. intelligence agencies, among others, have concluded that Khashoggi’s murder was premediated and orchestrated by high-level Saudi officials, including Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Saudi officials have denied involvement. In 2020, a Riyadh court convicted a group of individuals for Khashoggi’s death, in a closed trial that rights groups and international policy makers decried as a cover up for higher-level Saudi officials involved in the murder.

In 2018, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan expressed a strong commitment to holding those responsible for Khashoggi’s murder to account, including those at the “highest levels of the Saudi government”. This sparked renewed tensions between Turkey and Saudi Arabia, countries that have been at odds since the Arab Spring in 2011 when Erdoğan sided with the Muslim Brotherhood and the revolutions sweeping across the region.

In recent years, Saudi Arabia imposed an unofficial boycott of exported Turkish goods that resulted in a 98 percent cut in Turkish exports of meat, eggs, and other products. Erdogan, who has come under mounting domestic criticism over the country’s spiraling economic crises, has since sought to repair ties with its Saudi rival.

A dark day for justice

“Human life should not be a bargaining chip for political or economic interests”, Emre Kızılkaya,  the chair of IPI’s Turkey National Committee, said, in reaction to the news that Turkish authorities decided to transfer the trial to the Saudis. “As journalists, we keep demanding justice for Jamal Khashoggi”, he added.

“The decision by Turkish authorities to shift the trial to Saudi Arabia will all but guarantee that the masterminds responsible for the heinous murder of Jamal Khashoggi will continue to escape accountability”, said IPI Deputy Director Scott Griffen. “While IPI has long criticized Turkey’s domestic crackdown on the press, its commitment to pursuing justice for Khashoggi was bold and commendable. This decision is a deeply regrettable betrayal of that commitment.”

The Khashoggi murder – in part because of the brazenness with which it was carried out – has become a focal point for rights groups and international organizations fighting to bring an end to rampant impunity for attacks against journalists across the globe. As attacks against journalists have escalated globally, the vast majority of these cases have gone uninvestigated and unpunished. UNESCO estimates that roughly 87 percent of all cases of journalists killings have been carried out with impunity.

“This is a dark day not only for Khashoggi’s family and colleagues, but also for journalists and media workers all over the world”, Griffen added. “If a state like Saudi Arabia – a long-time ally of the West – can get away with Khashoggi’s abhorrent killing, it places critical journalists everywhere at risk.

“Attacks against journalists have a detrimental impact on democracy and human rights as a whole. The global epidemic of impunity for attacks on journalists must end – and we must now redouble our efforts toward this aim. We call once again on governments, especially those that have maintained close relations with Riyadh in the past, not to let those responsible for Khashoggi’s killing get away with murder.”