Reporters Without Borders is worried by the way the Istanbul court that is trying journalist Hrant Dink’s accused murderers seems to be rushing the trial to a premature conclusion. The 21st hearing was held on 14 November and the next is scheduled for 5 December. There used to be at least three months between each hearing.
“Under no circumstances should this trial be concluded as things currently stand,” Reporters Without Borders said. “Key elements are still missing from the case and too many questions are still unanswered.”
The drawn-out trial started to move along more quickly after prosecutor Hikmet Usta delivered his summing-up during the 20th hearing on 19 September. But answers have yet to be provided to the same questions that have been raised in hearing after hearing.
Why is the High Council for Telecommunications (TIB) persisting, in defiance of several court rulings, to hand over records of the phone calls that were made in the Istanbul district where Dink was gunned down, around the time of his murder (on 19 January 2007)? Why is the court refusing to order an analysis of surveillance camera recordings? Why haven’t all the witnesses been produced?
Shortly before the 21st hearing, the TIB again refused to release the requested records, saying the court should specify exactly what calls it is referring to – made by whom, received by whom, at what time and so on. The TIB had previously cited “protection of privacy” as its grounds for refusing to hand over its records.
But the Dink family’s lawyers are just asking for a list of the calls that were made in the area at the time, not their content. Combined with the recordings of the surveillance cameras of businesses located near the murder scene, the information on such a list could help to identify as yet unidentified accomplices and instigators.
The need to obtain the phone records is all the more urgent because the TIB is legally required to destroy them after five years, on 19 January 2012. Reporters Without Borders has written to the TIB asking it to surrender the requested records to the court as a matter of urgency. Signatures are being collected in Turkey to a petition urging the country’s parliamentarians to intervene.
“Invaluable video recordings have already been destroyed as a result of negligence or bad faith on the part of the police,” Reporters Without Borders said. “It would be intolerable if more essential evidence were now to be destroyed.”
The police still have not located two witnesses, Cemal Yildirim and Ergün Cagatay, so that they can testify in court again at the request of the Dink family’s lawyers. The presiding judge, Rüstem Eryilmaz, nonetheless announced that the next hearings will be dedicated to defence arguments rather than any further testimony. The Dink family’s lawyers are planning to demand the jury’s dismissal if their request for further investigation is not satisfied.
Many leading media figures and jurists attended the 21st hearing in a show of support for the Dink family and their demand for justice.
They included Robert Koptas, Dink’s successor as editor of the Turkish-Armenian weekly Agos, Elise Arfi of the Paris Conference of lawyers, Alexandre Couyoumdjian of the Paris bar association, Yves Ochinsky, the former heard of the Brussels bar association, Raffi Hermonn, the deputy major of Istanbul’s Princes’ Islands, the academic Ahmet Insel, the journalist Oral Calislar and Reporters Without Borders correspondent Erol Önderoglu.