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Hrant Dink: Life in jail for ex-officers involved in murder

March 26, 2021

After 14 years of drawn-out legal proceedings, a Turkish court has sentenced several people to prison for their role in the murder of journalist Hrant Dink.

A person holds up a poster with a photo of murdered journalist Hrant Dink
An advocate for Armenians in Turkey, Hrant Dink was frequently targeted until his 2007 murderImage: ANKA

A court in Istanbul sentenced several former top security officials to prison over the 2007 murder of Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink.

The long-awaited decision comes after 14 years of drawn-out legal proceedings, and amid accusations senior security officials failed to act to prevent his death.

What did the court rule?

The court in Istanbul sentenced handed down several sentences for the 76 defendants in the case — only a handful of whom are in custody. 

Judges handed life sentences to two former police chiefs and two top ex-security officers.

The sentenced the city's former police intelligence chief Ramazan Akyurek and his former deputy Ali Fuat Yilmazer to life in prison for "premeditated murder", state news agency Anadolu reported. They were also handed an additional 7.5 years for forgery and destroying official documents.

Former top Interior Ministry officers Yavuz Karakaya and Muharrem Demirkale were also handed life sentences. 

A former Interior Ministry commander, Ali Oz, was sentenced to 28 years in prison. He commanded the region of Trabzon where the gunman who shot Dink came from.

The court dropped charges against several other people involved, as the statute of limitation had expired.

Hrant Dink
Hrant Dink was editor-in-chief of Aremnian newspaper Agos, and a passionate advocate for better ties between Turkey and Armenia Image: AP

Among those accused is US-based Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen, with prosecutors probing alleged links between the exiled preacher and the suspects in the case.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan blames Gulen for orchestrating an attempted coup in 2016.

On Friday, the court did not rule on Gulen and 12 others considered fugitives in the case — but instead said several suspects were linked to Gulen's movement.

What has the reaction been?

Outside the courthouse on Friday, Dink's supporters slammed the decision as "insufficient," saying that the masterminds behind his killing remained free.

Dink's family said they plan to appeal the court's decision, Anadolu reported. 

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) also said that at least 20 officials should have been added to the long list of defendants in the case.

The series of trials over Dink's murder have been held "without a clear and satisfactory conclusion," RSF said. Links between the shooter and authorities "have proved to be very complex and subject to political manipulation."

Who was Hrant Dink?

Hrant Dink was a prominent voice for Turkey's Armenian community.

He worked as the editor-in-chief of the Turkish-Armenian bilingual newspaper Agos, and was a passionate advocate for better ties between Turkey and Armenia.

In January 2007, while on the street in front of the newspaper's editorial office in Istanbul, was fatally shot twice in the head. He was 53. 

Dink's murder plunged Turkey's small Armenian community into morning and sparked a drawn out trial which has lasted over a decade. 

In 2011, Ogün Samast was found guilty of killing Dink and was sentenced to nearly 23 years in prison. He was 17-years-old at the time of the murder.

Rakel Dink, the wife of murdered journalist Hrant Dink
In 2010, the ECHR ordered the Turkish government to pay Dink's widow, Rakel Dink, and the rest of his family damagesImage: Reuters/O. Orsal

Drawn out trial

The reason for Dink's murder has never been settled as trials continue for others charged in the willful killing. 

At one point it came to light that Turkish security had knowledge of the plotbut failed to take action and has led to a protracted legal process. 

In September 2010 the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled in that the Turkish state had failed to protect Dink's life and his freedom of expression. The Turkish government was ordered to pay compensation to his family.

"Some of those responsible for this assassination, including the sponsors, have still not been prosecuted," said Erol Onderoglu, Turkey representative for Reporters Without Borders (RSF), who has closely followed the trial. 

The trial carries the weight of history as well. Ankara does not recognize the contentious term genocide when it comes to the expulsion and killings of up to 1.5 million Armenians. 

jm/rs (AFP, dp)