Reporters Without Borders shares the view of the family of the murdered newspaper editor Hrant Dink that it is premature for the prosecution to conclude its case in the trial of his accused murderers. Dink’s family and its lawyers walked out of the Istanbul courtroom in protest when prosecutor Hikmet Usta began reading his 86-page summing-up during the 20th hearing on 19 September.
“We have always said that the slowness with which this trial was proceeding was unbearable, but hastily concluding the prosecution case will not help the truth to emerge,” Reporters Without Borders said. “Many aspects of this case still need to be clarified. It is vital that the judicial system should complete its work before issuing its decision.
“Closing the case now would just reward the ill will displayed by the many government officials who either stalled when asked by the court to provide information or deliberately destroyed evidence and are thereby responsible for many of the gaps in the prosecution’s case.”
Dink family lawyer Fethiye Cetin said: “It is entirely premature to talk of summing up, inasmuch as essential elements in the case are missing.”
Important witnesses such as Ergün Cagatay and police informer Sinan Rasitoglu have still not been located by the judicial authorities. Despite a recent court decision making it obligatory, the High Council for Telecommunications (TIB) has still not provided the court with a register of the phone calls made in the area where Dink was shot dead, the Istanbul district of Sisli, at the time of his murder on 19 January 2007.
As a result, investigators have still not been able to trace the phone calls that a suspect – seen in the area on surveillance cameras – made just before and after the murder. Also the two individuals accompanying convicted killer Ogün Samast on the street in Sisli when he gunned Dink down have still not been identified. And it has not been possible to restore some surveillance camera recordings that were deleted by the Istanbul anti-terrorist department.
The prosecutor assured the Dink family that all available evidence had already been presented and that he would therefore be able to present the summing-up that he had prepared nearly a year ago.
He requested life sentences for the two alleged masterminds, Yasin Hayal and Erhan Tuncel, accusing them of “premeditated murder” and of “running the cell of the terrorist organization Ergenekon in Trabzon,” the Black Sea city where they and Samast, the convicted shooter, lived. He also requested life sentences for five other defendants (currently not in detention) for “complicity in murder” and “membership of a terrorist organization,” sentences ranging from 3 to 19 years for other defendants, and the acquittal of seven others.
In his summing-up, the prosecutor linked the Dink murder to the 2004 bombing of a McDonald’s in Trabzon and plans to attack Nobel literature laureate Orhan Pamuk, the journalist Hincal Uluç and a Christian missionary in Istanbul, all of which he attributed to Tuncel and Hayal.
The summing-up portrayed Dink’s murder as political and ideological assassination that was just one element in a supposedly vast destabilization plan by an alleged ultranationalist underground network known as Ergenekon. This network, which allegedly included senior military officers and civilian officials opposed to the present government, is at the centre of a series of cases that are currently polarizing Turkish politics.
While taking note of this theory, which is now being heavily exploited by the Turkish authorities, Reporters Without Borders points out that it got some of its original proponents into a lot of trouble. The journalists Nedim Sener and Kemal Göktas, in particular, were tried several times for drawing attention to the role in Dink’s murder that officials within the state and the judicial system played.
“It is an advance that the ultranationalist networks within the state apparatus are being explicitly linked to the Dink case, but this must be pursued to the end,” Reporters Without Borders said. “By limiting the search for masterminds to the Hayal and Tuncel level, the judicial authorities seem to be protecting more highly placed suspects. What happened to the investigation into 30 senior officials that was launched last February after the European Court of Human Rights ruled against Turkey?”
Fully solving the Dink murder case is essential in order to show that the Ergenekon affair is not just being used by the government in order to purge the state administration of officials who are radical secularists and Kemalists – adherents of the ideology of the Turkish republic’s founder, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.
Dink’s murder shocked public opinion, which began to distance itself from the most radical forms of Kemalist nationalism. It is now up to the judicial system to show that it has not been left behind by this major social change, and that it is ready to contribute to a thorough overhaul of the Turkish state. Unfortunately, the prosecutor’s summing up suggested the contrary. The target of the Dink murder, he said, was “public order in the Turkish republic, the state’s authority and the state’s indivisible unity with the nation.”
A Turkish-Armenian journalist who edited the newspaper Agos, Dink supported reconciliation between Turks and Armenians and was a critic of Kemalist dogma.
Samast, the youth who shot him outside the newspaper on 19 January 2007, was tried before a different court from the 18 other defendants on the grounds that he was a minor at the time. Sentenced to 23 years in prison on 25 July for the Dink murder, he is also being tried on a separate charge of belonging to an illegal organization.
The members of the Trabzon gendarmerie who had prior knowledge of the Dink murder plot and did nothing to stop it were also tried separately and were sentenced on 2 June to sentences ranging from four to six months in prison.