By Nicolas Cheviron, AFP
Turkish police withheld and destroyed evidence to cover up the killing of ethnic Armenian journalist Hrant Dink, a lawyer for his family claimed as the second hearing in the murder trial began in Istanbul Monday.
"Evidence and information is being hidden from prosecutors... A lot of evidence was destroyed and lost," Fethiye Cetin said in an interview with the Radikal newspaper. Several suspects in the murder, for which 19 people are on trial, indicated in their testimonies that "they believed they were acting on behalf of the state," she said.
Dink, 52, a prominent member of Turkey's tiny Armenian minority, was gunned down on January 19 outside the offices of his bilingual Turkish-Armenian weekly Agos, in central Istanbul. Although he campaigned for reconciliation, nationalists hated him for calling the massacres of Armenians under Ottoman rule during World War I genocide, a label that Ankara fiercely rejects.
Cetin said tape from a security camera outside a bank near Agos disappeared after being taken by police. The security forces also tapped telephone conversations of two key suspects before the murder and when prosecutors learned this, they were given incomplete records, she added.
"Something is being covered up -- maybe certain relationships" between the suspects and members of the security forces, she said.
Dink's murder prompted fresh calls on Ankara to purge the "deep state" -- a term used to describe security forces prepared to act outside the law to preserve what they consider to be the best national interests. The charge sheet says police received intelligence as early as 2006 of a plot to kill Dink organized in the northern city of Trabzon, home of self-confessed gunman Ogun Samast, 17, and most of his 18 alleged accomplices. Samast admitted to the shooting because Dink was "an enemy of the Turks," according to the indictment.
In Monday's hearing, held behind closed doors because Samast is a minor, the teenager repeated his confession before the judge and said he would not have killed Dink if he knew he had a family, lawyers at the hearing told reporters.
Samast, who said he was high on drugs when he pulled the trigger three times, faces up to 42 years in jail; he avoided a life sentence because he is a minor. Two other key suspects -- Yasin Hayal and Erhan Tuncel, both 26 -- are accused of heading the ultra-nationalist group Samast belonged to and of masterminding the murder. They could be jailed for life if found guilty.
The indictment says Tuncel was a police informer who twice told officials in 2006 that Hayal was planning to kill Dink, but deliberately concealed the fact that someone else would pull the trigger because Tuncel himself was involved in the plot. Hayal earlier served 11 months for the 2004 bombing in Trabzon of a McDonald's restaurant, in which six people were injured, to protest against the US-led invasion of Iraq. The 16 other suspects face sentences of seven-and-a-half to 35 years.
The role of the members of the security forces in Dink's murder came up again at the weekend as a taped telephone conversation between a policeman and Tuncel shortly after the killing was leaked to the media. The dialogue, which includes degrading comments about the victim, suggests the policeman knew in advance of the murder plot.
Some 300 people demonstrated near the courthouse Monday, shouting, "We are all witnesses. We want justice."
Claudia Roth, the visiting leader of Germany's Greens Party, said outside the courthouse that "Article 301 killed Dink" and urged Ankara to abolish the infamous penal code provision that penalizes "insulting Turkishness."
Dink was given a suspended six-month sentence last year under the article, which the European Union says is a serious affront to free speech in Turkey.