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Turkey29 February 2008

Disappointing court decisions in Hrant Dink murder trial

Reporters Without Borders shares the disappointment expressed by the lawyers representing the family of murdered newspaper editor Hrant Dink after the fourth hearing on 25 February in the trial of his alleged murderers before an Istanbul court of assizes.

The court rejected most of their requests, including their proposal that the trial should be combined with two cases under way in the northeastern cities of Trabzon and Samsun in which members of the security forces are being prosecuted on charges “abuse of authority” and “tampering with evidence” in connection with Dink’s murder in Istanbul in January 2007.

“Like the Dink family lawyers, we think the refusal to combine these three cases will make it harder to understand the motives of Dink’s murderers,” Reporters Without Borders said. “And the links between the various security forces and their informers, from Trabzon to Istanbul, will be harder to prove.”

The press freedom organisation added: “The Turkish judicial authorities are not doing everything possible to ensure that all the aspects of this murder are clarified and that all those responsible are identified. We regret this, and we repeat that this trial is vital for Turkey. The country must demonstrate that its judicial system is capable of acting in an independent manner.”

Two Trabzon gendarmes, Veysel Sahin and Okan Simsek, are accused of failing to take the necessary measures to prevent the Dink murder, while two Samsun police officers, Metin Balta and Ibrahim Firat, are accused of allowing the alleged gunmen, Ogün Samast, out of his cell to pose for photos, and of distributing the photos to the news media.

The court similarly rejected the Dink family lawyers’ request that the governor of Istanbul be asked to identify the two intelligence officers who gave Dink a warning in 2004 in connection with an article suggesting that Sabiha Gökçen, one of the adopted children of the Turkish republic’s founder, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, was of Armenian origin, like Dink himself.

Finally, the court also ruled that four of the 19 defendants - including Yasar Cihan and Halis Egemen of the ultra-nationalist and Islamist Büyük Birlik Partisi (Great Unity Party), who are facing possible 10-year jail terms - are not required to attend the next few hearings. Fethiye Cetin, one of the Dink family lawyers, said this was premature, especially as some of the defendants, such as Coskun Igci, Irfan Özkan and Erbil Susaman, have not yet testified.

The trial will continue to held behind closed doors as the court decided it will carry on treating Samast as if he was a minor at the time of the shooting, as indicated by his birth certificate, rather than be guided by a forensic medical opinion that, on the basis of his physical development, he had probably turned 18. The next hearing has been set for 28 April.

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