ISTANBUL (Hurriyet)—The primary suspect in the assassination of Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink will be transferred to a juvenile court, an Istanbul court ruled on Monday.
The controversial decision has been criticized by lawyers and Dink supporters, who say the change falls within the law but fails to address the full scope of the case.
“This would not have happened if you had enacted justice swiftly,” the journalist’s brother Hosrof Dink told the court following the decision.
The Istanbul court ruled that it did not have jurisdiction to prosecute main suspect Ogün Samast because he was under the age of 18 at the time of the murder. The unanimous decision was made under the recently changed Law No. 6008 on minors’ legal status in adult courts. The change to what is commonly known as the “stone-throwing children’s law” was meant to ease the plight of juveniles charged under Turkey’s anti-terrorism laws.
The head judge answered Hosrof Dink’s statement by saying the court was only following the law, and he should address his concerns to the country’s lawmakers.
The switch to a juvenile court for serious crimes will cause problems for the case, Kemal Aytac, one of the intervening lawyers, told CNNTurk. “The judicial board that will hear the case will change. It will cause problems in terms of fairness. Continuation is critical in trials,” Aytac said. He added, however, that what is more crucial is that state officials who were negligent in failing to protect Dink based on prior threats were not included in the case.
“The decision of the court is in accordance with the law,” the Friends of Hrant Dink said in a written statement, while agreeing with Aytac that the scope of the case needs to be broadened. “Maybe this might be an opportunity for justice to be fulfilled. With the boy who committed murder out of the way, maybe it will next be the turn of his brothers and superiors, the real planners of the murder and inciters,” the group said in its statement.
The decision regarding Samast is “laughable,” Anıl Guler, a member of the Friends of Hrant Dink, told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review on Monday during a court recess. “[It is] a laughable situation. There is no need even to comment on it,” Guler said, adding that the group has changed its slogan “For Hrant, for justice” to simply “For Hrant” because it has lost hope of gaining justice from the court.
Dink, a Turkish journalist of Armenian descent and the editor-in-chief of weekly Agos, was murdered in front of his newspaper’s office in Istanbul in January 2007.
After the prosecutors asked for the case to be moved to a juvenile court – a request backed by the suspect’s lawyer – the court asked the intervening lawyers their opinion. They demanded the case continue without a change of venue, but said they would leave the matter to the court’s decision under Law No. 6008. The intervening lawyers also demanded that Samast stay under arrest despite his lawyer’s request for his release.
The alleged murderer will be tried under arrest at the Istanbul Sultanahmet Juvenile Court.
In the court Monday, the intervening defense read a long summary of the recent European Court of Human Rights decision on Dink’s murder, in which it found the Turkish state guilty of failing to protect the slain journalist’s right to life, freedom of expression and right to due legal process.
Since the European court’s decisions are final, able to revoke final verdicts and accepted as solid evidence in Turkish courts under relevant treaties, its ruling about Dink should have an impact on the ongoing trial in Turkey, the intervening defense said. The defense added that the European court clearly pointed to neglectful actions by various civil servants, from the police and gendarmerie to governors, and argued that the existing suspects are part of a bigger group of responsible parties under the European court decision.
The defense also said the Turkish government blocked the carrying out of a deeper investigation into the murder and called for such an investigation to be started immediately.
French lawyers were also at the courthouse to follow the hearing. Alexandre Couyoumdjian, president of the French Association of Armenian Attorneys and Lawyers, or AFAJA, told the Daily News that the decision on Samast “is a consequence of the law.”
Asked what French lawyers thought about the demand for a deeper investigation in light of the European court decision, Lawyer Kee-Yoon Kim from the Paris Young Bar spoke for group and said, “We hope so.”
The intervening lawyers also demanded that the court order Samast to reenact the crime moment by moment as part of the trial; in addition, they requested that the case be merged with another one in Trabzon, in which two low-ranking gendarmerie officers are being tried in connection with Dink’s murder, and that the court request testimony from Ergenekon suspect Erhan Ozer. The court was still discussing these requests when the Daily News went to press.
Also during Monday’s hearing, arrested suspect Erhan Tuncel read a five-page text arguing for his innocence and release. Tuncel said he did everything in his power as a gendarmerie informant to prevent Dink’s murder and claimed that he and another suspect in the case, Yasin Hayal, found a knife while waiting in the detention cell before being brought the court. Tuncel had the knife in his pocket during the hearing, he said. “We were going to give it to you, but did not in order not to cause disorder,” he said to the head judge. “I talked [with Hayal] about giving it to the [gendarmerie] commander, but we did not. Then I threw it in the toilet,” Tuncel said. Hayal confirmed the statement.