Turkey18 January 2008
On first anniversary of editor’s murder, authorities urged to prosecute all those involved
On the eve of the first anniversary of the death of Hrant Dink, Reporters Without Borders pays tribute to his courage and reiterates its solidarity with his family and fellow journalists who defend his memory. The editor of the Armenian- and Turkish-language weekly Agos, Dink was gunned outside the newspaper’s office in Istanbul on 19 January 2007, in a murder that caused an outcry in Turkey and throughout the world.
“The authorities must push ahead with the investigation in order to identify all those, whoever they are, who were involved in this terrible crime, one that had all the elements of a tragedy foretold,” Reporters Without Borders said. “The authorities must show they are capable of shouldering their share of the blame for this murder and they must embark on a thorough overhaul of Turkey’s legislation and the way the state apparatus operates.
“Amending or repealing article 301 of the criminal code, which punishes ‘humiliating the Turkish identity,’ is an escapable part of the reform process, and we encourage the authorities to do it as quickly as possible.
“This is the only way to ensure that Dink is the last victim of hatred in Turkey,” Reporters Without Borders added. “Let us not forget that about 100,000 people marched behind Dink’s coffin on 23 January 2007. Let us not forget that they chanted : ‘We are all Hrant Dink, we are all Armenians’.”
The first one-day hearing in the trial of Dink’s alleged murderers was held in the Istanbul suburb of Besikta on 2 July. The second was held on 1 October and the next is to take place on 11 February. There is no longer any doubt about the identify of the youth who fired the shots, Ogün Samast, and his accomplices Erhan Tuncel and Yasin Hayal, said to be the masterminds. The essential issue raised by the trial is the involvement of the security forces in the murder, whether in its gestation or execution or in support for the three leading defendants afterwards.
The Dink family lawyers have on several occasions complained about the destruction of evidence and the refusal of the authorities to go after members of the police or gendarmerie. One of the most glaring examples is a phone conversation between Tuncel and Mühittin Zenit, a policeman based in the northeastern city of Trabzon, where most of the 19 defendants are from. It took place half an hour after Dink’s murder and shows that Zenit had been aware of a plan to kill Dink. He has nonetheless been transferred to the Department of Intelligence.
Fethiye Cetin, one of the Dink family lawyers, also points out that the video of the murder that was recorded by a surveillance camera outside a bank located next to the newspaper was never viewed because the police did not request the recording in time.
Interior minister Besir Atalay nonetheless told parliament this week : “The justice system is functioning well in the Dink case. No dimension of this event has remained outside its scope.” Bahri Bayram Belen, another of the Dink family lawyers, immediately responded : “Unnecessary administrative decisions blocked judicial investigations of state employees that should have been carried out.” He added : “Since the initial investigation, certain enquiries (...) have not been appropriately conducted because the security forces did not participate.”
Parliament is looking into the case. An investigative sub-commission of the human rights commission began on 4 January to conduct enquiries aimed at clarifying the circumstances in which the murder took place. Headed by a former journalist, Mehmet Ocaktan, it has already conducted investigations in Istanbul and Trabzon.
The irregularities have been confirmed by another parliamentary commission of enquiry. Its report said : “Although interior minister experts thought Directorate of Security officials in Istanbul, both senior and junior, could be held responsible for failing in their duty to supervise (before the murder), only one judicial investigation into the head of the police intelligence service in Istanbul, A. Ilhan Güler, was authorised.”
The prime minister’s office has meanwhile announced that it has completed its own report after eight months of investigation. The prime minister agreed to conduct this investigation in April after getting a letter from Dink’s daughter, Rakel Dink, in which she referred to the many irregularities and said she feared that justice would never de done.
Another recent development is the emergence of the possibility that Samast, the main defendant, could be older than his ID papers say. Doctors who examined him in May concluded that he could be 18, not 17. The court must rule on this question, which could have a major impact on the trial. If the court decides that Samast is not, after all, a minor, the trial should be declared open to the public, while Samast would face the possibility of life imprisonment instead of a 20-year sentence.
Dink was the victim of a state-endorsed nationalism that bans any mention of certain aspects of Turkish history such as the genocide of Armenians in the last years of the Ottoman empire. This nationalism finds expression in article 301 of the criminal code, entitled “Humiliation of Turkish identity, the republic and the institutions or organs of the state,” under which “openly humiliating the government, the judicial organs of the state, or the military or police structures” is punishable for six months to three years in prison.
Dink had been prosecuted under this article. His son, Arat Dink, was give a suspended sentence of a year in prison on 11 October for publishing in Agos the interview father had given to Reuters in which he said the massacres of Armenians from 1915 to 1917 constituted genocide. In all, 120 people have been prosecuted under the article, which has emerged as major tool for restricting free speech since it took effect in 2005.
The authorities have repeatedly stated their intention of amending the article. Justice minister Mehmet Ali Sahin, for example, told the Anatolia news agency on 6 November that the government had decided to amend it. He said the cabinet would consider the various amendment proposals “at the first opportunity.”
At the start of this month, the justice ministry submitted a draft amendment to the national assembly’s laws commission, which must now examine it. It proposes replacing “humiliating the Turkish identity” by “humiliating the Turkish people” and “humiliating the republic” by “humiliating the Turkish republic.” It proposes eliminating paragraph 4 of the article that says “any expression of thought in the form of criticism cannot be sanctioned.”
The proposed amendment would also reduce the maximum penalty from three years in prison to two. The justice ministry’s permission would henceforth be required for anyone to be prosecuted under the article. (The new deputy prime minister, former justice minister Cemil Ciçek, thinks a commission, rather than the ministry itself, should decide whether to give permission.) And finally, it would also eliminate paragraph 3, which says : “If a Turkish citizen living abroad humiliates the Turkish identity, the penalty is increased by a third.”
This falls well short of satisfying Reporters Without Borders, which calls for the complete repeal of article 301, as the proposed amendment offers no solution to the problem of the article’s arbitrary application by judges.
Many tributes will be paid to Dink throughout the world. In Istanbul, a rally is to be held at 3 p.m. tomorrow outside Agos. A list of planned events can be seen as this address :