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Turkey8 March 2007

Police negligence and nationalist tensions at centre of probe in Hrant Dink’s murder

The Turkish government and authorities must do everything possible to shed light on the 19 January murder of Hrant Dink, the editor of the Turkish-Armenian newspaper Agos, and bring all those responsible to trial, Reporters Without Borders reiterated today following the emergence of new evidence of police negligence in the case.

“This murder must not remain unpunished,” the press freedom organisation said. “Justice must be done. We continue to be concerned about the constant threats to Agos. We hope the proposal to amend article 301 on Turkish identity will be carried out as soon as possible and that there will be serious political debate about the question of press freedom.”

The daily newspaper Milliyet published an article on 27 February about the negligence of the Istanbul police as regards Dink’s protection. It included a list of sites for protection which the Istanbul security directorate drew up after the French parliament passed a law last year making denial of the Armenian genocide a crime. Although Agos was 12th on the list, the police had felt there was no need to protect Dink. The day after his murder, the prefect of the Istanbul police even said at a news conference that he had not requested police protection.

Dink’s wife Rakel, his daughters Sera and Delal and his son Arat went to testify at the Istanbul prosecutor’s office on 13 February. One of the family’s lawyers, Bahri Beln, said they filed a complaint against those who did not take the necessary measures to protect him.

A total of 28 people have been detained in several cities of Turkey since Dink’s murder and eight of them have been placed in custody, but there are still many murky aspects to the case. Yasil Hayal, the murder’s alleged instigator, retracted his statement after learning that Erhan Tuncel, an ultra-nationalist and student at the Karadeniz (Black Sea) University, was a police informer.

During his second interrogation in Kandira prison in the city of Kocaeli, Hayal told a prosecutor that the aim of his first statement was to protect Tuncel, who was, he said, the “real instigator.” Tuncel had informed the police several times a year ago of a plan to murder Dink.

As the investigation continues, Agos continues to be the target of threats. Ten people were arrested in Kayseri, in the centre of the country, on 12 February for sending email messages threatening the newspaper. Computer material was seized but the suspects were released.

The debate about article 301 continues to grow in the run-up to parliamentary elections in November and the presidential election in May. After a meeting of senior representatives of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), its deputy president, Faruk Celik, said: “We want this matter finished with once and for all. But the article will not be abolished. It will be amended or maintained as it is.”

At Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s request to “get article 301 out of the news,” members of his government and party met on 19 February to discuss a possible amendment, but failed to come up with any concrete proposal. Foreign minister Abdullah Gül has come out in favour of amending article 301, which, if left as it is, could threaten Turkey’s hopes of joining the European Union. But the nature of the possible amendment is still not known. Various proposals by human rights groups that are part of the Common Platform on Human Rights (IHOP) and by the Association of Turkish Journalists (TGC) have not been accepted. The TGC has said it favours replacing the expression “Turkish identity” in the article by “Turkish people” with the aim of shifting its applicability to matters taking place on Turkish soil.

The shock of Dink’s murder continues to shake Turkish society while the gulf between ultra-nationalists and pro-Armenians deepens.

Shortly after a mass in Dink’s honour at the Armenian church of St Mary of Kumkapi, on the European side of Istanbul, on 3 March, two youths fired shots in the air to scare the people who had gathered in the adjoining gardens. Identified thanks to security cameras at the entrance to the church, Volkan Karaova and Yilmaz Murat Ozalp were arrested in possession of a revolver and blanks by Istanbul anti-terrorist police.

The Turkish press has reported that the Istanbul prosecutor’s office ordered that they be held for an additional two days for further questioning. The police took Karaova into custody three months ago after he fired at a Greek church in Istanbul’s Eminonu district

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