A man in a crowd holds up a placard with a photograph of slain journalist Hrant Dink at a demonstration to mark the 16th anniversary of his murder in Istanbul, Turkey, on January 19, 2023.
Demonstrators mark the 16th anniversary of the murder of journalist Hrant Dink in Istanbul, Turkey, on January 19, 2023. Dink's family are still calling for full justice to be served. (Photo: Reuters/Dilara Senkaya)

Killer of journalist Hrant Dink freed in Turkey amid widespread criticism

Istanbul, November 17, 2023—The Committee to Protect Journalists urges Turkish authorities to heed the calls by the family of murdered Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink for full justice, following the release of his killer from prison.

In 2007, 17-year-old Ogün Samast assassinated Dink, the prominent managing editor of the bilingual Turkish-Armenian weekly Agos, outside his newspaper’s offices in Turkey’s largest city, Istanbul. Samast confessed to shooting Dink, and in 2011 he was sentenced to 22 years and 10 months for premeditated murder and possession of an unlicensed firearm.

On Wednesday, Samast was freed on parole after serving 16 years and 10 months, triggering widespread criticism in Turkey, which led to the Ministry of Justice issuing a statement saying that it had followed the law.

Dink’s family have long argued that government officials, police, military personnel, and members of the National Intelligence Agency failed to protect Dink’s life and have called for an investigation into possible official corruption. Evidence presented in court showed that more than one intelligence unit had been aware of the planning of Dink’s murder but had done nothing to prevent it. The defense also pointed out that Samast was not sophisticated enough to organize such a professional assassination.

Dink, a Turkish citizen of Armenian descent, had worked to reconcile the two communities, but his criticism of Turkey over the massacre of Armenians between 1915 and 1917 angered nationalist Turks.

“On paper, Ogün Samast may have served his sentence for the murder of journalist Hrank Dink, but Dink’s family have yet to find closure in their lengthy quest for justice,” Özgür Öğret, CPJ’s Turkey representative, said on Friday. “After 16 years of setbacks and disappointments, Turkish authorities should heed the calls of Dink’s family, friends, and lawyers for everyone involved in the conspiracy to assassinate Dink to be punished to the full extent of the law.”

In 2019, nine people—including Samast—were convicted of being members of a criminal organization. The Dink family’s lawyers appealed the verdict on the grounds that they wanted the defendants to be charged as members of an armed terrorist organization rather than as members of a criminal organization, which would allow for a more in-depth investigation. Samast’s conviction as a member of a criminal organization was later overturned by the Supreme Court of Appeals.

In a separate criminal conspiracy trial involving state officials in 2021, a court found 26 out of 77 defendants guilty of Dink’s killing. Dink’s family stated that they did not believe that the court exposed the full conspiracy behind his killing and in July 2023 requested a retrial from the Constitutional Court of Turkey. The high court has yet to respond.

CPJ’s email to the Turkish Ministry of Justice did not receive any reply.