A rally demanding justice for Hrant Dink is held in Ankara on January 19 to mark the eighth anniversary of the journalist's murder. (AFP/Adem Altan)
A rally demanding justice for Hrant Dink is held in Ankara on January 19 to mark the eighth anniversary of the journalist's murder. (AFP/Adem Altan)

Hope for justice still frail in Hrant Dink’s 2007 murder case

The murder of Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink, founder and managing editor of the weekly Agos newspaper, is still under investigation in Turkey. But despite arrests last month in the eight-year-old case, Dink’s family and colleagues are worried justice will still not be served.

Dink was shot outside his newspaper’s Istanbul offices on January 19, 2007 by a 17-year-old named Ogün Samast. The gunman and his accomplice were quickly apprehended and imprisoned. However, as Dink’s relatives and advocates for progress in the case have argued from the start, the killers were not the only ones involved in the crime. In numerous interviews and public statements over the years, Dink’s supporters have claimed government officials, police, military personnel, and members of the National Intelligence Agency (MIT) played a role in his murder by neglecting their duty to protect the journalist.

The Supreme Court of Appeals in Turkey agreed that the Dink case should be further investigated and, in May 2013, ordered a retrial. The European Court of Human Rights ruled in 2010 that Turkish authorities had failed to protect Dink’s rights to life and freedom of expression. Turkey’s Constitutional Court ruled in November that civil servants and institutions must be investigated for their alleged roles in Dink’s murder. A fourth verdict about investigating neglect on the government’s part was issued by the 8th Court of Serious Crimes of Bakırköy in October.

Currently, the trial of at least 18 suspects in the immediate killing of Dink, which started on September 17, 2013, is ongoing at Istanbul’s 5th Court of Serious Crimes, according to news reports. A separate investigation is being run by Istanbul prosecutors, focusing on allegations of neglect by security forces who allegedly had intelligence about the plot to kill Dink before his murder but did nothing to stop it. Police officers are being questioned by Turkish prosecutors, two officers were arrested January 13, and a third was arrested on January 19, according to local reports.

Dink’s family and colleagues remain cautious about cheering the new arrests because the investigation into possible government involvement has been separated from the main trial, according to news reports. It is unclear whether the current investigation will lead to an indictment for the newly arrested suspects.

Hakan Bakırcıoğlu, a lawyer for the Dink family, told CPJ that Istanbul prosecutors are taking testimonies from officers at the Intelligence Department of the General Police Directorate, the Trabzon Police Directorate, and the Istanbul Police Directorate. Such testimonies are long overdue, he said, since the investigation into Dink’s murder started in 2007. Bakırcıoğlu also told CPJ it was important for the current investigation–and any resulting trial–to be part of the same legal process. Then and only then will the truth about Dink’s murder be revealed, he said. Bakırcıoğlu added that prosecutors and courts could demand a merging of the trials.

Dink’s family and its legal team have found the handling of the murder investigation and trial lacking in scope since the start, and insist that the full details of the crime will be revealed only when all levels of responsibility are tried in one case, he said. “Since the beginning, we have said that the connections of the higher levels of the organization were not revealed but the court[s] did not accept our demands,” Bakırcıoğlu told CPJ.

The lawyer said the use of the term “neglect” in Turkish law–under which officials are being investigated–means that if a court rules the officials had intelligence of a plot against Dink they would automatically become accomplices in the murder.

Pro-government circles, and several pro-government news outlets have blamed the problems with the Dink investigation and trial on the U.S.-based Islamic cleric Fethullah Gülen, according to news reports. (The so-called Gülen movement, once an ally of the ruling Justice and Development Party, is currently in a political battle with the government.)

Dink’s former colleagues at the Agos are worried the second trial will be used as a weapon by the government against the movement rather than as a tribune for justice. “Yes, it is true that the police chiefs allegedly in relation with the Gülen movement … carry certain culpability in the assassination of Hrant Dink,” a December 10 editorial in Agos said. “But was it only them? State institutions, and the National Intelligence Organization (MİT) and the General Staff first and foremost among them, and the Police, Army, Judiciary, Bureaucracy and the political power to which all these institutions are tied to, have all played a role first in Dink being singled out as a target, then in his assassination, and finally in the cover up that has protected the perpetrators to this day.”

Investigative journalist İsmail Saymaz, who has followed the Dink case closely, told CPJ that powerful structures and groups have been blaming the murder on each other, instead of pursuing the truth. In the past, Dink’s murder was blamed solely on the so-called Ergenekon organization–an alleged conspiracy to topple the Turkish government, Saymaz said. Now the Gülen movement has replaced Ergenekon as the alleged sole culprit, he said. But Dink’s family and supporters have constantly said in public statements that a variety of people and agencies were involved, and blaming only one while exonerating the other will not lead to justice.

“There was this scenario that this murder was committed by the organization called Ergenekon or by the military. This scenario did not lead to bringing all responsible for the crime to justice because the police officers involved in the Ergenekon trials were covering their own tracks. Today, there is another attempt at concealing the entire truth of what happened to Hrant Dink. The truth is that not only civil servants who are said to be close to the Gülenist movement but also people who are said to be close the ruling AKP, as well as some people whom we can call ultranationalists, all have their share of guilt,” Saymaz told CPJ.

Unless all parties become committed to uncovering the truth about Dink’s murder justice will not be served. The Turkish judiciary and political establishment are responsible for breaking the cycle of impunity in this landmark case.

UPDATE: The sixth paragraph has been updated to reflect the correct spelling of Hakan Bakırcıoğlu, the Dink family lawyer.