A Turkish court has ended a case against Saudi defendants accused of murdering prominent journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Rights groups have condemned the action, which Ankara took as it seeks to repair diplomatic ties with Riyadh.
The decision had been expected after prosecutors last week requested the trial be moved to Riyadh. The Turkish Justice Ministry backed the decision.
“Yes, very disappointing. So unacceptable,", Hatice Cengiz, Khashoggi's fiancée, said outside the courthouse. "So I don't want to say that I will give up. Because of what happened in the court today, Turkey gives up from the struggle."
Khashoggi, a critic of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, was killed four years ago inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. With Turkey and Saudi Arabia regional rivals, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan took a leading role in the international outcry over the killing, strongly backing the Khashoggi case. In retaliation, an unofficial Saudi boycott of Turkish goods saw Ankara's exports to Riyadh plummet by 90%.
The end of the Khashoggi case comes as Ankara seeks to mend ties with Riyadh as part of a broader regional reset.
"Turkey has been striving to improve its ties with many countries it's at odds with," said Turkish presidential adviser Ilnur Cevik. "It has done this with the United Arab Emirates; it has been trying to do this with Egypt. It's been trying to do it with Saudi Arabia. It has been doing this with Israel. We do not want to be at odds with our neighbors, especially the regional countries."
International rights groups Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch condemned the decision to move the case to Riyadh, saying there was no justice in Saudi Arabia. So far, Riyadh has not commented on the decision.
Soli Ozel, professor of international relations at Kadir Has University in Istanbul, said stopping the Khashoggi trial is controversial for Ankara but will facilitate Saudi rapprochement efforts.
"They just killed and cut to pieces and then destroyed in acid a journalist in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul," Ozel said. "And the fact that it happened in Istanbul cannot have been coincidence. And that we are in a position to let bygones be bygones, I can understand this is part of real politics, but I find it quite disturbing."
Last month, Erdogan said that positive dialogue with Riyadh was continuing, declaring he wanted concrete steps to improve ties. The Turkish president said he is planning to travel to Riyadh to cement current rapprochement efforts. Analysts see the ending of the Khashoggi trial as removing an important obstacle to that visit.