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Turkey Khashoggi trial: Journalist felt threatened by MBS's allies, court hears

A hearing of the Istanbul-based trial into the Saudi journalist's murder hears testimony of Khashoggi talking about high-level threats years before his death
Friends of murdered Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi attend an event marking the second-year anniversary of his assassination in front of the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October 2020 (AFP)

Jamal Khashoggi felt threatened by people close to Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, a close friend of the murdered journalist told a Turkish court on Tuesday.

The main court in Istanbul held a second hearing in the trial in absentia of 26 Saudi suspects in the high-profile murder of the Washington Post columnist - including two former aides to the powerful Saudi crown prince, also known as MBS.

The 59-year-old was killed inside the kingdom's Istanbul consulate on 2 October 2018 after going inside to get documents for his marriage to Turkish fiancee Hatice Cengiz.

The murder sparked an international outcry and tarnished the reputation of the oil-rich kingdom and the crown prince.

The Turkish trial is being held separately from a Saudi one into the case, which overturned five death sentences issued after a closed-door hearing in September.

The Riyadh court instead jailed eight unidentified people for terms ranging from seven to 20 years in what rights groups Amnesty International and Reporters Without Borders (RSF) both called a "parody of justice".

Turkish prosecutors have charged Saudi's former deputy intelligence chief Ahmed al-Assiri and the royal court's one-time media czar Saud al-Qahtani with orchestrating the murder and giving direct orders to a Saudi hit team.

Ayman Nour, an Egyptian political dissident and longtime friend of Khashoggi, told the court that the journalist had told him about being personally threatened by Qahtani.

"Jamal said he had been threatened by Qahtani and his family," Turkish media quoted Nour as telling the court.

"Nour said Khashoggi had reported being threatened by Saud al-Qahtani since 2016," Rebecca Vincent of Reporters Without Borders (RSF) separately tweeted from the courtroom.

"Khashoggi spoke of a phone call from Qahtani when he was living in Washington DC, saying he knew his kids and where they lived. Nour said Khashoggi was crying, which was unusual, and said he was afraid."

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Khashoggi's fiancee Cengiz also attended Tuesday's hearing, which was adjourned to 4 March.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said the order to murder Khashoggi came from "the highest levels" of the Saudi government, but has never directly blamed MBS.

Relations between the two countries suffered in the wake of Khashoggi's death.

But Erdogan discussed ways to enhance ties with the crown prince's ageing father, King Salman, on the eve of last weekend's virtual G20 summit hosted by Saudi Arabia.

The Turkish trial is monitored closely by human rights advocates.

Vincent said the Istanbul court had rejected RSF's application to become a civil party in the Khashoggi's case.

This would have given the Paris-based group broader access to court documents.

"We were disappointed," Vincent told AFP, calling it "a missed opportunity to ensure robust international scrutiny".

"But regardless we will continue to closely monitor this case and call for adherence to international standards."