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Turkey6 May 2008

Little progress in latest Hrant Dink trial hearing, but press to be admitted to next one

Little significant progress was made during the fifth hearing on 28 April in Istanbul in the trial of the 19 people accused of the January 2007 murder of Hrant Dink, a journalist of Armenian origin. Eight of the defendants in the trial, which began 15 months ago, have been detained since shortly after the murder.

One of the defendants, Coskun Igci, a police informer in the eastern city of Trabzon, the home town of most of the defendants, was due to have been questioned during the 28 April hearing but he could not testify as he was not represented by a lawyer.

Igci previously testified to a Trabzon court that he had informed two police officers that Yasin Hayal, one of the accused masterminds, was planning to kill Dink. As a result of that statement, the two police officers said they had passed on the information to their superiors, and accused them of failing to take any action.

The Istanbul court said it would provide Igci with a lawyer for the next hearing on 7 July, which should be open to the press because the accused gunman, Ogün Samast, turns 18 on 28 June. Until now the press have been barred from the hearings on the grounds that Samast was a minor.

One of the defendants, Irfan Özkan, who was released on 2 July 2007, gave damning testimony at the 28 April hearing. He confirmed that he had heard Ümit Öksüz, a Trabzon youth and friend of Samast, say: “A group from Istanbul organized an important meeting in Trabzon before the murder at which it was asked who was going to shoot the journalist. When Samast stepped forward to say ‘I will do it,’ everyone applauded.”

When asked by one of the Dink family lawyers about the participants at this meeting, Özkan refused to answer, saying Öksüz himself should provide the information.

The court agreed to a request by the Dink family’s lawyers for the Istanbul and Trabzon prosecutor’s offices to be asked to provide situation reports on the investigations under way into Istanbul police officers, including police chief Celalettin Cerrah, his head of intelligence and their aides, and into gendarmes in Trabzon.

The Dink family’s lawyers is also seeking access to official records that would help them to establish what contacts Hayal may have developed during a previous spell in prison in October 2004 after bombing a McDonald’s restaurant in Trabzon. They have asked for access to the prison computer in which all prisoner visits are recorded but the prison administration had not responded.

Finally, the Dink family’s lawyers also filed a complaint against Hayal’s lawyer, Fuat Turgut, accusing him under article 216.2 of the criminal code of “inciting hate” by insulting novelist Orhan Pamuk and Armenians during the hearing and in the presence of journalists.

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