Justice elusive in Turkish trial’s fourth year

ISTANBUL
 An activist holds a placard that reads 'For Hrant for Justice' in  front of the Istanbul courthouse where the trial for slain  Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink is being heard. AA photo
An activist holds a placard that reads ‘For Hrant for Justice’ in front of the Istanbul courthouse where the trial for slain Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink is being heard. AA photo

Four years after the murder of Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink outside his Istanbul office, justice has not been done, and has indeed been obstructed, according to a report prepared by lawyers in the murder case.
In their fourth annual report on developments in the case, lawyers for the Dink family have accused the state of protecting suspected civil servants, repeatedly denying reasonable demands and ignoring valid evidence related to the 2007 murder, the anniversary of which is commemorated Wednesday.
“It has appeared as the most significant and systematic fact of this phase [of the trial] that security and intelligence units hid, changed [and] destroyed information and documents that would reveal the material fact; tried to mislead the investigation authorities by offering false testimony; [and] manipulated evidence,” the report read.
On Monday, the Dink family applied to the Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office seeking the enforcement of a decision last year by the European Court of Human Rights, which ruled that Turkey had not protected Dink, had not run a proper investigation into the security forces failing to do their jobs and had ignored the journalist’s freedom of speech.

Justice delayed: Dink case marks 4th anniversary

Jan. 19, 2007 – Hrant Dink murdered in Istanbul

Jan. 20, 2007 – Ogün Samast apprehended

Jan. 21, 2007 – Then-Istanbul Police Chief Celalettin Cerrah claims there is no larger organization behind Samast

Feb. 6, 2007 – Former police informant Erhan Tuncel says he had informed police about the murder 11 months earlier

July 2, 2007 – First hearing of the murder case held with 18 suspects

April 2, 2008 – Soldiers are asked to testify at Parliament to a commission related to the case but do not show up. A colonel and a captain visit the commission May 2 but do not testify.

July 6, 2009 – Samast threatens Dink family members in the courtroom

May 10, 2010 – Two more suspects acquitted, leaving only Samast, Tuncel and Yasin Hayal as suspects

Sept. 14, 2010 – European Court of Human Rights rules Turkey had not protected Dink

Oct. 25, 2010 – Samast’s trial is transferred to a juvenile court

The family demanded investigations of the police and gendarmerie officials allegedly responsible for the murder, either directly or by neglecting their duties. In their application, they argued that the European court’s decision canceled the authority of certain domestic laws that had previously blocked the path of putting such officials on trial.

Dink, a Turkish citizen of Armenian origin, was murdered in front of the office of the weekly Armenian-Turkish newspaper Agos on Jan. 19, 2007. Confessed killer Ogün Samast was transferred to a juvenile court in October, and his trial separated from the main murder case, due to a legal change he benefited from because he was under the age of 18 on the day of the assassination.

Yasin Hayal, who is accused of abetting the murder, and Erhan Tuncel, a former police informant who claims innocence on the grounds that he told security forces everything he knew months before the murder, are still on trial under arrest. The only suspects left after three years of the trial, they will be released next year if they are not convicted by that time under a recent legal change that limits arrest periods without conviction to a maximum of five years.

From the beginning, lawyers for the Dink family have stated that the murder was not the work of “three to five nationalist youth,” but even the official inspector’s reports concluded that the National Intelligence Organization, or M?T, should be investigated were not enough to allow the questioning of high-ranking suspects from the police, gendarmerie and the M?T.

Before his murder, Dink became the target of a hate campaign, which he wrote about shortly before he died in a column titled, “Why I was Selected as a Target.” A column he wrote in 2004 about allegations that Sabiha Gökçen, the first female pilot in Turkey and the adopted daughter of Turkish Republic founder Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, might have been of Armenian origin was denied with a harsh statement from the chief of General Staff.

Members of nationalist circles took a hostile stance against Dink following the issuing of this statement, which noted the article of the Constitution saying “everybody who has a citizenship tie to the Turkish state is a Turk.” The lawyers for the Dink family argue that the anti-Dink campaign, consisting of protests in front of Agos offices, news stories, columns and criminal complaints for “insulting Turkishness,” were organized efforts.

Dink was sentenced in 2005 for “insulting Turkishness” under Article 301 of the penal law based on a column he wrote, despite expert reports concluding the references he was accused of making were clearly ironic.

Destroyed, changed and ignored evidence

Some of the claims in the fourth annual report by the Dink family lawyers include:

* Security camera recordings from an Akbank ATM near the murder site were collected by security forces but a significant part of them were destroyed. Likewise, camera recordings from a nearby fabric store were ignored. The lawyers believe these tapes are important in regard to witness testimonies that Samast was not alone.

* Confusion regarding Samast’s cell phone and SIM card has not been solved and witnesses who saw him speaking on the phone were not called to testify in court. Likewise, the cell phones of suspects Hayal and Tuncel were tapped, but these records were hidden by the investigating prosecutors.

* Samast spent time at a nearby Internet café on the day of the murder and allegedly chatted with people there. Police did not investigate this angle until the lawyers demanded it two months after the murder. The café is on the second floor of a building and there is no sign of it visible from the street. It is managed by a police officer, Cavit K?l?ç, who was present at the café on the day of murder. K?l?ç said in his police testimony that he did not notice Samast but gave detailed information when called to court.

* Contrary to official explanations, large quantities of information and intelligence existed on the plans for Dink’s murder. The lawyers accused M?T and the Telecommunication Transmission Directorate, or T?B, of hiding evidence.

The ‘untouchables’

* Istanbul Deputy Gov. Ergun Güngör called Dink to his office and had him meet with two M?T members right after the chief of General Staff’s statement on the Sabiha Gökçen claims. Dink wrote that he received veiled threats at that meeting.

* Nationalists held two protests in front of Agos two days after the M?T meeting. “From now on, Hrant Dink is the target of our full anger and hatred,” nationalist youth leader Levent Temiz said at one of the protests.

* Lawyer Kemal Kerinçsiz and the Great Lawyers Association filed criminal complaints with the same text against Dink and appeared at hearings with applications to take a side at the trials. Kerinçsiz is now a suspect under arrest in the Ergenekon coup plot case alongside Oktay Y?ld?r?m, Veli Küçük and Sevgi Erenerol, who all appeared at several hearings where Dink was tried. Protests held outside the courts accused Dink being a “missionary.” The lawyers have pointed to the violent acts against Christians in Anatolia, one of which Yasin Hayal was involved with, and raised the argument that the efforts against Dink were organized as part of a larger campaign. The lawyers have asked why the mentioned Ergenekon suspects were not questioned in the scope of the Dink investigation.

The Dink family demanded investigations Monday into the following police and gendarmerie members: Muammer Güler, Ergun Güngör, Celalettin Cerrah, Ahmet ?lhan Güler, Bülent Köksal, ?brahim Pala, ?brahim ?evki Eldivan, Volkan Altunbulak, Bahad?r Tekin, Özcan Özkan, Ramazan Akyürek, Re?at Altay and Engin Dinç.


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