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Turkey3 July 2007

As Hrant Dink murder trial opens, court is urged to show it is protecting no one

Reporters Without Borders today hailed an Istanbul court’s decision to expand the investigation into the murder Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink to include those who may have colluded with or supported the suspected murderers. A representative of the press freedom organisation went to Istanbul for the start of the trial of the alleged killers yesterday.

“The investigation has shown that several of the defendants enjoyed support within the security forces and that one of them even, in vain, alerted the police that an attack was being prepared on Dink,” Reporters Without Borders said. “The judicial authorities must demonstrate that they are not trying to protect anyone and that all those who in any way contributed to Dink’s murder, including those within the security forces, will be severely punished.”

The press freedom organisation added: “This trial is of historic importance. It is now up to Turkey, which aspires to join the European Union, to reject violence and to choose to respect the rule of law.”

Dink’s daughter, Delal Dink, told Reporters Without Borders that justice needed to be rendered to her father, who was gunned down on 19 January. “Otherwise,” she said, “there will be more murders that fuel the tension in the population, and if that continues, children will be brought up immersed in hate and it will never stop.” She added that her father had told her he knew the threats to his life were “serious” and came from “high-level officials.”

Reporters Without Borders, the International Pen Club and the Association of Turkish Journalists asked to be granted civil party status in the trial but they were not given permission to attend the hearings. Only the Dink family, their lawyers and the representatives of Agos and Birgün, the two newspapers Dink worked for, were allowed to remain in the courtroom.

A total of 18 defendants appeared before the 14th chamber of the Besikta court of assizes when the trial began an hour and a half late yesterday. They were charged with “murder” and “membership of a terrorist organisation.” Access to the courthouse was blocked but around 2,500 people gathered outside brandishing placards and photos of Dink and chanting: “We are all Hrant Dink, we are all Armenians.”

The hearing was held behind closed doors on the grounds that the main suspect, Ogün Samast, was 17 at the time of Dink’s murder. Samast made no statement yesterday, but he is said to have previously admitted to investigators that he was the person who shot Dink three times.

Erhan Tuncel, 28, and Yasin Hayal, 26, who are alleged to have been the two other main perpetrators, reportedly implicated each other. The prosecutors are requesting sentences of 26 to 42 years in prison for Samast. His two alleged accomplices are facing the possibility of life imprisonment. The other 15 defendants face sentences of seven to 35 years in prison. The next hearing has been set for 1 October. As Association of Turkish Journalists representative Ayse Onal was leaving the courtroom along with all the others who had to leave, she shouted: “We are the ones who are being murdered, we are Hrant Dink.” The judge replied: “I know, I am truly sorry, but it is the law.”

When Dink’s wife, Rakel, and his daughter, Delal, arrived at the courthouse, they were accosted by Fuat Turgut, the lawyer representing Yasin Hayal, one of the alleged instigators of the murder. “You are holders of Armenian passports,” he shouted at them.

During the hearing, Turgut argued that the Turkish judicial system had found Dink guilty of being a traitor to his country when it imposed a suspended sentence of six months in prison on him for his articles about the massacres of Armenians in 1915. This prompted Delal Dink to leave the courtroom in tears.

One of the lawyers representing the Dink family, Fethiye Çetin, criticised the absence of members of the security forces among the defendants. She also deplored the fact that the investigators ruled out suspects who appeared to have been implicated, and ignored certain evidence (including the recordings of surveillance cameras of stores near to Agos, the newspaper in front of which Dink was shot).

She accused the authorities of Trabzon, Samast’s home town, of hampering the investigation and she insisted that the ultra-nationalist groups to which Samast and the other defendants belong enjoyed support within the police and judiciary. “We are convinced that the organisation that planned, organised and carried out this murder is not limited to the city of Trabzon,” she said. Tuncel worked as a police informer and had on several occasions reported plans to murder Dink that were ignored by the police.

Born in 1954, Dink waged a determined fight for the Armenian genocide to be recognised. His murder exacerbated the divisions between nationalists and the more progressive sectors of Turkish society. The controversial Dink never flagged in his commitment to national reconciliation. He became a target of far-right groups, but despite the threats and accusations, he always refused to leave Turkey.

He said in his last interview: “It is here that I want to pursue the fight, because it is not just my fight, it is the fight of all those who want Turkey to be democratised. If I give up and leave the country, it will be a shame for everyone. My ancestors lived in this country, it is here that I have my roots, and I have the right to die in the country where I was born.”

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