ISTANBUL (AP)–More than six months after the killing of Armenian journalist Hrant Dink, 18 suspects went on trial Monday in a case widely seen as a test of whether the country’s judiciary will be able to investigate allegations of official negligence in the slaying.
Dink was gunned down on Jan. 19, and his killing led to international condemnation and debate within Turkey about free speech. Dink was hated by hardline nationalists for describing the mass killings of Armenia’s early in the last century as genocide.
The trial will take place behind closed doors because the alleged teenage gunman, Ogun Samast, is a minor.
Critics accused authorities of failing to act on reports of a plot to kill Dink, and it is unclear whether allegations that could potentially be embarrassing for top officials will be explored in the trial.
Hundreds of protesters demonstrated near the court house, appealing for justice and carrying a banner that read: "We are all witnesses, we want justice."
Turkey had vowed a thorough investigation, and the governor and police chief of the Black Sea city of Trabzon, the hometown of Samast, were removed from office because of negligence. Some security officials who posed for photographs with the gunman as he held a Turkish flag were also dismissed.
There has been no evidence that directly implicates any police or government officials in the slaying of Dink outside his office.
Many Turks are convinced that a so-called "deep state"–a network of state agents or ex-officials, possibly with links to organized crime–periodically targets reformists and other perceived enemies in the name of nationalism.
"This trial will be a test of whether this quagmire will be dried up or not," lawyer Kezban Hatemi, representing Dink’s family, told reporters before the hearing Monday. "The indictment lacks evidence and there is a need to find out real culprits."
Dink sought to encourage reconciliation between Turkey and Armenia.
But he was prosecuted numerous times under Article 301 of Turkey’s penal code, which bans insults to Turkish identity, for his commen’s on the mass killings of Armenia’s by Turks in the early 20th century.
Last year, a high court confirmed a six-month prison sentence imposed on Dink–though it was later suspended–for attempting to influence the judiciary after his newspaper ran articles criticizing Article 301.