The International Press Institute (IPI) today expressed concerns about continued impunity in the 2007 murder of Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink following a court ruling on March 26.

On March 26, 2021, a first instance court in Istanbul handed down verdicts involving 76 defendants, mostly public officials, concerning Dink’s murder after more than 14 years. This was the third trial related to Dink’s murder. Local reports stated that while 27 of the defendants were sentenced to various prison sentences, 33 of them were acquitted. The remaining cases were either dropped or separated for further prosecution.

However, the court ruling did not erase concerns about impunity. Dink’s family and local groups following the case have renewed their call on authorities to further investigate and take necessary actions until no question is left unanswered.

On January 19, 2007, Dink was shot in broad daylight outside the Istanbul office of Agos, the Armenian-language newspaper he founded. The shooter, Ogün Samast, and others those who were initially identified as being involved in the planning of the shooting were sentenced to prison in separate trials in previous years.

Incomplete justice

During the final hearing of the trial with 76 co-defendants, Muharrem Demirkale and Yavuz Karaya, Istanbul gendarmerie intelligence commander and officer at the time of the murder, respectively, were sentenced to life imprisonment on charges of aiding murder and violating the constitutional order. Ali Fuat Yılmazer, former head of Istanbul police intelligence unit, and Ramazan Akyürek, former head of Trabzon intelligence unit, were sentenced to life for murder.

The other 23 received varying sentences.

Notably, among those convicted was Ercan Gün, the former editor-in-chief of FOX TV, who was sentenced to 10 years in prison on charges of “membership of an armed terrorist organization” in relation to FOX TV’s coverage of the police officers’ posing for the camera with Samast following his arrest. The court held that Gün spread the photos to aid the Gülen movement. Amidst the wider problems in the Dink case, Gün’s conviction appears to be a clear violation of press freedom.

Charges against two top officers in the case – former Istanbul Police Chief Celalettin Cerrah and former Trabzon Police Chief Reşat Altay – were dropped due to the statute of limitations.

Full justice still missing

The general perception among Dink’s family and press freedom advocates is that justice has not been fully rendered. The family points not only to the length of the trial, but also says that not all those responsible have been held to account, which they note has damaged the Turkish judiciary in this symbolic case.

The Turkish authorities’ handling of the case, including the lack of a prompt and thorough investigation, has raised questions of political will and possible deeper state involvement in the murder.

Similarly, the fact that some of the charges were shifted to accuse defendants of links to the Gülen movement might be interpreted as a political powerplay by the prosecution, instead of scrutinizing the misconduct of the state apparatus. In addition, some of those who are believed to be responsible for the murder have either not been prosecuted or the charges against them were dropped, as seen in this court ruling. For example, officials from Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MİT) were completely excluded from this investigation and the trial. However recently, the Dink family applied to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) for a second time for the alleged ineffectiveness of criminal proceedings regarding MİT involvement.

IPI spoke to Bülent Aydın, a representative of a civil society organization called “Friends of Hrant”, which has sought justice for Dink’s murder for 14 years.

“The verdict which were given after 131 hearings did not reveal the truth behind the murder in all its aspects”, Aydın said. “The murder was not addressed in a way to include those who made Hrant Dink a target, those who condone the murder and then tried to cover it up. Those who did not take steps to protect Hrant Dink, who has been the target of threats and attacks since 2004, and those who did not make an operation against the perpetrators, which was known by the police and intelligence units, were left unpunished. The demands of the lawyers to deepen the investigation were not met.”

He added: “Some of the defendants who had primary responsibility in the process were not punished or the charges against them were dropped due to the statute of limitations.”

Aydın said that on April 1, the Dink family initiated an appeals process, requesting all those responsible for the killing to be prosecuted. “We won’t stop raising our demand for justice until each and every single one of those perpetrators are punished and justice is served”, he said.

In advance of the ruling, IPI raised concerns about the quality and adequacy of the trial process in a statement and urged the authorities to break the cycle of impunity.

“14 years have passed since Hrant Dink was murdered, yet authorities have failed to hold all those behind the killing to account”, IPI Turkey Programme Coordinator Renan Akyavas said.  “Until all questions regarding Dink’s murder are answered, the case cannot be considered complete. The genuine will of the Turkish authorities and the Turkish judiciary to break the cycle of impunity against journalists’ killings must be proven by thorough and full investigation of all suspects – regardless of their affiliation or position – by independent prosecutors and judges.”