Reporters Without Borders

Hrant Dink murder trial about to end in cover-up, unless...

Hrant Dink murder trial about to end in cover-up, unless...

Published on Tuesday 17 January 2012. Updated on Thursday 19 January 2012.
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The verdict in the trial of 18 people accused of participating in the January 2007 murder of Turkish-Armenian newspaper editor Hrant Dink will probably be handed down today. After blowing hot and cold for several months, Judge Rüstem Eryilmaz announced this at the end of the trial’s 24th hearing on 10 January.

“Whatever it decides, we do not expect a lot from this court,” Reporters Without Borders said. “Five years after Dink’s murder, this court has proved to be powerless to shed light on all the complicity within the state apparatus and to identify the masterminds. No one can regard this case as solved. Elements within the police and judicial apparatus have been obstructing the investigation up until the final moment. The end of this trial will almost certainly confirm the failure of a judicial system that did not give itself the resources it needed to get at the truth.

“There is only a faint hope that justice will finally be rendered to Dink. Everything now depends on the desire and ability of the prosecutor’s office to assemble enough evidence to open a new trial. Countless aspects of this case still need to be clarified and a new judicial investigation is absolutely essential. Together with Dink’s family and colleagues, we hope the end of this sham trial will mark a new start to the investigation and we will press for this with more determination than ever.”

Even if the trial is ending, the investigation by the Istanbul prosecutor’s office continues and the Dink family lawyers hope that it will finally make some progress. In a major development, the High Council for Telecommunications (TIB) finally decided at the start of December to surrender the records of the mobile phone calls that were made in the immediate area of the murder around the time it took place on 19 January 2007.

But the utmost vigilance is needed. It was again the Dink family’s lawyers who made the investigation advance, despite obstructionist manoeuvres by the Istanbul police. The lawyers established that calls were made from five numbers to the phones of two of the defendants, Mustafa Öztürk and Salih Hacisalihoglu, while they were near the scene of the murder. At least 14 other people were in regular contact with them from other places. The Istanbul police nonetheless submitted a report saying that none of the 6,235 phone call listed by the TIB involved any of the 19 defendants.

“Even we, with the limited resources and time available to use, managed to establish this link,” Dink family lawyer Fethiye Cetin said. “The Istanbul police report proves that the police did everything possible from the outset to cover this up.”

Impunity continues to reign within the state apparatus. The announcement of an investigation into 30 senior officials in February 2011 seems to have been nothing more than that – an announcement designed to impress the European Court of Human Rights, which had criticized the Turkish judicial system’s failure to investigate the apparent complicity of police officials and others.

The prosecutor’s office announced in September that it was abandoning an investigation into two members of the MIT intelligence service who had threatened Dink in 2004 after inviting him for a chat. Dink had reported that the two intelligence officials, Özel Yilmaz and Handan Selçuk, had advised him to be “prudent” and to not “go too far.”

The MIT took three and a half years to acknowledge that the two men were MIT employees and it was only in January 2011 that the prime minister’s office gave its approval for a judicial investigation into the matter. In its September announcement, the prosecutor’s office simply said that it had proved impossible to complete the investigation within the permitted time period.

In their closing arguments at the last hearing, the Dink family lawyers reiterated their request for senior officials to be brought to trial, including former national police intelligence chief Ramazan Akyürek, who allegedly recruited one of the defendants, Erhan Tuncel, as an informant and protected him.

Another of the defendants, Yasin Hayal, one of the murder’s alleged organizers, referred at the last hearing to pressure from within the state apparatus and claimed that he was being threatened by some of the guards at the prison in the nearby city of Tekirdag where he is being held.

Ogün Samast, the youth who was convicted separately in July 2011 of being the hit-man who shot Dink, is meanwhile now being tried on a charge of membership of the alleged terrorist organization known as Ergenekon. The next in hearing in that trial is scheduled for 26 April.

(Picture: AFP)

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