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Turkey5 October 2007

Call for all relevant evidence to be incorporated into Hrant Dink murder file

Reporters Without Borders is outraged by reports of the disappearance of evidence in the investigation into the murder of Turkish-Armenian newspaper editor Hrant Dink. The second hearing in the trial of Dink’s alleged murderers was held before a court in the Istanbul district of Besikta on 1 October.

The press freedom organisation also regrets that the trial judge rejected its request to be formally registered as a civil party in the case on the grounds that it was not directly affected by the murder of Dink, who was gunned down outside the Istanbul office of his newspaper, Agos, on 19 January.

“Evidence proving that the authorities - especially those in Trabzon, where most of the defendants lived - knew of the plans to kill Dink has been deliberately ignored,” Reporters Without Borders said. “The justice system can no longer deny this. Yet it refuses to do its duty and prosecute those members of the security forces who have been incriminated. This is simply outrageous.”

The organisation added: “We have learned with great disappointed that our request to be registered as a civil party in this case has been refused on the grounds that the Dink murder did not directly concern us. The authorities did not see the need to inform us of this decision, which was reported to us by our local correspondent.”

The second hearing was marked by the testimony of Ogün Samast, the youth who has confessed to firing the shots that killed Dink. At the request of the Dink family lawyers, the two defendants who allegedly persuaded Samast to shoot Dink - Yasin Hayal and Erhan Tuncel - were removed from the court while he gave his evidence.

Samast said he “felt remorse” and “had not understood” the significance of murdering Dink because he was on drugs. He said was forced to go ahead with the shooting by Hayal, who gave him Ecstasy pills. He added that he did not know Dink had a family, and if he had known, he would not have done it. A routine medical test carried out at the time of his arrest nonetheless indicates he lied about one point at least - he was not under the influence of any drug, the test showed.

The hearing continued until 11:30 pm to allow the court to hear evidence from other defendants, who tried to established that the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), now also known as Kongra-Gel, and even Israel and the United States were involved in the murder.

The hearing coincided with the publication in the Turkish media of the recording of a phone conversation between Mühittin Zenit, one of the police officers in Trabzon, and Erhan Tuncel, one of the defendants. The conversation, which took place about half an hour after the murder, indicates that Zenit had prior knowledge of the murder plan. Dink family lawyer Fethiye Cetin also pointed out that the videotape of a surveillance camera outside a bank near Dink’s newspaper disappeared after being taken by the police. “Something is being covered up,” he said. “Certain relations between (...) the gunman and those very close to him may have been discovered, but not those really responsible for the murder.”

The court decided for the time being not begin legal proceedings against Zenit, the policeman, who is already subject to administrative proceedings. The representatives of the civil parties in the case fear that this means that Zenit will never be tried for his role in the murder. Meanwhile on 29 September, the interior ministry ordered an investigation to determine who leaked the recording of his phone conversation to the media.

The next hearing is set for 11 February.

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