Two Turkish soldiers went on trial Tuesday accused of covering up intelligence about the plan to murder ethnic Armenian journalist Hrant Dink months before it occurred, Anatolia news agency reported.
They are the first members of the security forces to stand trial in the Black Sea city of Trabzon, where the murder was allegedly planned, amid widespread allegations that some officers condoned the killing and did not act to prevent it.
The 52-year-old Dink, whom Turkish nationalists hated for calling the World War I massacres of Armenians genocide, was shot dead on January 19, 2007, outside the offices of his Agos newspaper in downtown Istanbul. The self-confessed gunman, 17-year-old Ogun Samast, alleged mastermind Yasin Hayal and 17 suspected associates went on trial in Istanbul last year.
Hayal's uncle testified Tuesday that he had informed the two defendants -- members of the Trabzon gendarme, a paramilitary force policing rural areas -- that his nephew was planning to kill Dink, and accused the pair of trying to cover up the tip-off. "I told them that Yasin Hayal was planning to kill Hrant Dink three or four months before his murder," Coskun Igci told the judge, adding that the soldiers also knew that his nephew was looking for a gun to buy.
"Several days after Dink was killed, they came to me and asked me not to speak to anyone about what we had talked before," he said.
The defendants, who were not present at the hearing and were named by Anatolia only as O.S. and V.S., risk between six months and two years in jail for "abuse of power".
Dink's murder has prompted fresh calls on Ankara to eliminate the "deep state" -- a term used to describe security forces acting outside the law to preserve what they consider Turkey's best interests. Lawyers for Dink's family say the police withheld and destroyed
evidence to cover up the murder, including footage from a bank security camera in downtown Istanbul near where Dink was killed.
Prosecutors say police received intelligence as early as 2006 of a plot to kill Dink being organised in Trabzon. In September, two policemen went on trial in the northern city of Samsun for their role in a scandal that saw security forces pose for "souvenir" pictures with the gunman after he was captured there a day after the murder.
Dink had won many hearts in Turkey with his efforts for Turkish-Armenian reconciliation and more than 100,000 people marched at his funeral.