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Reporters Without Borders is stunned by the verdicts that an Istanbul court handed down yesterday at the end of the long trial of 18 persons accused of participating in the January 2007 murder of Turkish-Armenian newspaper editor Hrant Dink.
“Issuing verdicts when the judicial investigation has established so little was already inacceptable but the court’s decisions are absolutely scandalous,” Reporters Without Borders said. “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.
“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.”
According to the court, Dink’s murder was not the work of a terrorist organization and no part of the state apparatus was involved. The murder was masterminded by Yasin Hayal alone, and was carried out by the young gunman, Ogün Samast, who was already convicted separately by a juvenile court.
The details of the court’s decision and its legal arguments will be released in one month. But both the Dink family’s lawyers and the prosecutor, Hikmet Usta, have already announced their intention to appeal. The Court of Cassation, the country’s highest court of appeal, would be expected to issue a ruling on the appeals in a year from now.
Although blamed for everything, Hayal could be paroled
Hayal, the alleged mastermind, was sentenced to life imprisonment for Dink’s murder. He was additionally sentenced to three months in prison for threatening Turkish Nobel literature laureate Orhan Pamuk and to a year in prison and a fine of 600 Turkish pounds on an illegal firearm possession charge.
Hayal could nonetheless be granted a provisional release pending the confirmation of these sentences by the Court of Cassation because he has been jailed since 24 January 2007 and article 102 of Turkey’s code of criminal procedure limits preventive detention to a maximum of five years. The hitman, Samast, who received a 22-year sentence from the juvenile court, could also be released for the same reason.
The other alleged instigator, Erhan Tuncel, was acquitted of Dink’s murder and was freed last night. Tuncel was sentenced to ten and a half years in prison for the 2004 bombing of a McDonald’s restaurant in the northwestern city of Trabzon than injured six people. But the court took account of the five years he already spent in pre-trial detention and ordered his release pending the outcome of the appeal.
“We obviously do not question the legal limit on the length of preventive detention,” Reporters Without Borders said. “But the scant results achieved after five years are largely due to the countless obstacles that the security forces put in the way of the investigation and the exasperating slowness of the judicial proceedings.
“Furthermore, one cannot help noticing the contrast in the treatment given to the alleged murderers of a symbol of national reconciliation and the treatment given to journalists who are still in prison because they covered a demonstration or criticized the authorities.”
Seven of the defendants – Hayal, Tuncel, Ersin Yolcu, Ahmet Iskender, Zeynel Abidin Yavuz, Mustafa Öztürk and Tuncay Uzundal – were acquitted of membership of a terrorist organization and the last three were also acquitted of complicity in premeditated homicide. Ten of them – Alper Esirgemez, Irfan Özkan, Osman Alpay, Erbil Susaman, Numan Sisman, Senol Akduman, Veysel Toprak, Salih Hacisalihoglu, Yasar Cihan and Halis Egemen – were acquitted of collaborating with a terrorist organization.
Yolcu and Iskender were both sentenced to 12 years and six months in prison for helping Samast to carry out the murder. The court reduced these sentences from life imprisonment for “good behaviour.” The owner of a stationer’s shop in Trabzon where the murder weapon was concealed, Iskender was also sentenced to a year in prison and fine of 500 Turkish pounds for illegal possession of a firearm. Hacisalihoglu was sentenced to two months in prison and a fine of 500 Turkish pounds for illegal possession of ammunition.
The lawyer Ismail Cem Halavurt said the acquittals on a charge of membership of a terrorist organization clearly did not bode well for Samast’s second trial a charge of membership of a terrorist organization, which is still ongoing.
When the verdict was announced yesterday, an observer in the courtroom shouted to the presiding judge, Rüstem Eryilmaz: “Burn your robes! All we wanted from you was justice!” Other members of the audience prevented her arrest.
Fethiye Cetin, one the Dink family’s lawyers, was very upset by what she described as travesty of justice. “This trial is not yet over,” she said. “What just ended was a farce. For Hrant’s friends, the trial has just begun.”
When the hearing ended, hundreds of people, including journalists and human rights activists marched from the courthouse in the Istanbul suburb of Besiktas to the headquarters of Agos, the weekly newspaper founded by Dink.
Reporters Without Borders joins Dink’s friends in calling for a demonstration in Istanbul’s Taksim Square tomorrow, the fifth anniversary of his murder.
“The judicial system’s inability to shed light on the organized aspect of this murder and the complicity within the state apparatus must be denounced more loudly than ever,” Reporters Without Borders added. “The prosecutor’s office now has an even greater responsibility. It must ensure that account is taken of all the evidence as it pursues the investigation and it must ensure that there is a second trial that will make people forget this farce.”