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Turkey8 July 2008

In first open hearing in Hrant Dink murder trial, court rejects merger with parallel cases implicating police officers

The sixth hearing in the trial of newspaper editor Hrant Dink’s alleged murderers was held yesterday in Istanbul and for the first time since it began just over a year ago, the press was able to attend because the leading suspect, Ogün Samast, the youth from the city of Trabzon who allegedly shot Dink, has now turned 18.

The court yesterday heard evidence from several witnesses and considered requests from lawyers representing the Dink family. Some progress was made but the court continued to refuse to accede to the family’s request to merge the case with two other cases under way in Trabzon and Samzun involving police officers who allegedly had prior knowledge of the murder plot or demonstrated sympathy for the alleged shooter.

Those who gave evidence yesterday included police informer Coskun Igci, one of the 19 defendants. He claimed that he did everything possible to dissuade alleged mastermind Yasin Hayal, his former brother-in-law, from committing or plotting Dink’s murder. He added that he finally warned the two gendarmes with whom he had a connection that he had come to the conclusion that Hayal would not abandon his plan.

Three witnesses, including two employees of Dink’s Armenian-Turkish newspaper Agos, yesterday identified Samast as the man who shot Dink outside the newspaper’s office in Istanbul on 19 January 2007 and then fled down Safak Street.

At the request of the Dink family’s lawyers, the court asked about Hayal’s contacts with the outside world while in prison in Trabzon in 2004 for the bombing of a McDonald’s in the city. The Turkish prison authority will have to provide passwords giving access to the prison’s computer records of the visits Hayal received. A copy of the intercepts of his telephone calls from November 2005 to 19 January 2007 will also have to be handed over to the court.

In an attempt to assess the role played by Erhan Tuncel, another alleged mastermind, and whether he really did, as he claims, alert the authorities in Trabzon before the murder, the court has requested the real names of the intelligence officers with whom Tuncel says he was in contact. Until now, they have been referred to by their code names of “Memduh,” “Özgur,” “Ahmet” and “Kürsat.”

The judges also expressed their desire to hear evidence from two members of the Trabzon intelligence service, Engin Dinç and Ercan Delir, and asked Microsoft to provide details of Tuncel’s email and MMS correspondence.

The Istanbul police were also asked to provide the court with information about any threats Dink may have received prior to his murder.

The court refused to merge the Istanbul trial with the two other cases under way in Trabzon and Samzun despite the insistence of the Dink family’s lawyers that this is essential for the trial’s success. In Trabzon, two gendarmes are being prosecuted on charges of “negligence in the exercise of their duties.” In Samsun, two members of the security forces are on trial for posing with Samast for a photograph following his arrest on the day after the murder.

The next hearing has been set for 13 October. The court still has to hear testimony from 13 other witness before beginning to consider material evidence.

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