Friday, January 20, 2012

Turkey: Justice not served in Hrant Dink's case

Source: IFEX

A Turkish court this week sentenced a man to life in prison for inciting the murder of prominent ethnic Armenian journalist Hrant Dink five years ago, but cleared all 19 suspects of belonging to a terrorist organisation, reports IFEX member in Turkey the IPS Communication Foundation (BIANET), along with other IFEX members.

Dink, founder and editor-in-chief of the bilingual Armenian-Turkish newspaper "Agos", was shot in front of his office in Istanbul on 19 January 2007, in a case that highlighted the threat faced by Armenians in Turkey.

On 17 January, the court found Yasin Hayal, 31, guilty of incitement to kill Dink in 2007 but acquitted 19 other suspects of the charge of acting as members of an illegal armed organisation, says BIANET.

The ruling was denounced by Dink's lawyers and supporters who say the journalist was targeted for being Armenian and for campaigning for reconciliation between Armenia and Turkey over their violent history.

"Today's verdict - two days before the fifth anniversary of the journalist's assassination - resulted in the convictions of only secondary accomplices and failed to address the pivotal question of who masterminded the crime," said the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

Another prime suspect, Erhan Tuncel, a police informer, was sentenced to 10 and a half years in jail, but for a separate crime.

The self-confessed murderer, 17-year-old high-school dropout Ogun Samast, was sentenced to nearly 23 years in prison last July.

Dink's assassination sent shockwaves through Turkey and grew into a wider scandal after reports that the security forces had known of a plot to kill him but failed to act.

His conviction for insulting Turkishness just months before his death branded him a traitor and made him a target for hardline nationalists. He had called the massacres of Armenians under Ottoman rule a genocide.

IFEX members were shocked by the court's decision to exclude all possibility of the involvement of organised crime. "By portraying this murder as the work of a small group of fanatics, the judicial authorities have reflexively protected the state, whose role in this murder has nonetheless been demonstrated by all the independent investigations," said RSF.

"The judges are mistaken if they think they can thereby defuse the political time bomb within this case and spare members of the state apparatus from ever being charged. The shockwave that Dink's murder caused within Turkish society will continue to pursue them until they finally agree to do their duty," RSF added.

IFEX members have pointed out numerous irregularities in the Dink murder investigation since the trial began in July 2007, including deleted evidence and misinformation presented to the court by security and police officials.

"This trial is not yet over," said Fethiye Cetin, one the Dink family's lawyers. "What just ended was a farce. For Hrant's friends, the trial has just begun."

RSF joins Dink's friends in calling for a demonstration in Istanbul's Taksim Square on 19 January, the fifth anniversary of his murder, to demand the end of impunity.