Five years after the assassination of journalist Hrant Dink, evidence related to the real perpetrators of the crime is still being covered up, the Dink family's lawyer, Fethiye Çetin, who has been the chief attorney in the case, has said.
“Long ago, in 2008, we demanded the records of phone calls made in the vicinity of the assassination on the day of the murder. We were only able to have those records in court recently, a week before the case is going to be closed! Moreover, police provided misleading information to the court about the phone records,” Çetin told Today's Zaman following the 24th hearing of the trial, which took place on Monday at the İstanbul 14th High Criminal Court.
The late editor-in-chief of the Turkish-Armenian weekly Agos, Dink was shot dead by an ultranationalist teenager outside the offices of his newspaper in broad daylight in İstanbul on Jan. 19, 2007. The investigation into his murder stalled as the suspected perpetrator and his accomplices were put on trial, but those who masterminded the plot to kill him have yet to be exposed and punished.
Çetin said that contrary to the police investigation, which found no phone conversations among the suspects on the day of the murder, the Dink family attorneys found with their limited resources at least five cell phone numbers belonging to people who were present at the crime scene on the day of the murder that were directly connected to Mustafa Öztürk and Sahil Hacısalihoğlu, two suspects in the investigation.
The Telecommunications Directorate (TİB) told the court that 6,235 phone conversations took place in the vicinity at the time of the murder and that 9,300 people were carrying cell phones in the area. It also said their records showed no link to any of the cell phones.
“TİB's statement is not true,” Çetin said, adding that one of the numbers assigned to a cell phone present in the area at the time of the murder was used in 19 calls to suspect Mustafa Öztürk between the dates Oct. 22, 2005 -- about two years prior to the murder -- and Jan. 27, 2007.
She accused the İstanbul Police Department of misleading judicial institutions, obscuring evidence and attempting to keep the truth from coming out.
This is not the first time the Dink family lawyers have discovered information that appears to have been secretly held from the prosecution and the court. A lengthy list of suspicious irregularities in the Dink murder investigation, including deleted records and hidden files, suggestive of a police cover-up attempt, has marred the judicial process. Much of the evidence has indicated that the murder could have been prevented.
Since the day of the murder, mounting evidence has indicated that the police were tipped off about the assassination plot some months before the actual attack. İstanbul's police chief has also acknowledged that there was a tip-off about a possible attack on Dink, but said its priority level was too low for his department to take it seriously.
More dishearteningly, links between the police and the suspects have been revealed. For example, Erhan Tuncel, a key suspect in the murder, was previously a police informant. Although Tuncel is suspected of having incited Dink's murderer, he is also said to be the one who tipped off the İstanbul police. Important evidence, including Tuncel's police records, was hidden from the court. In fact, Tuncel's file with the police was destroyed, since it constitutes a “state secret,” according to officials.
The investigation has yielded more evidence linking the masterminds of the murder plot to the police force in İstanbul and Trabzon, the hometown of most of the suspects and the place where the assassination was planned, and in Ankara, where the police were in possession of intelligence about the murder.
The intention to obscure crucial evidence was not limited to hiding or destroying files on the suspects, the Dink family lawyers say. Footage from active security cameras at shops and banks located close to the crime scene was also mysteriously lost. These recordings would have been invaluable in identifying those associated with the murderer on the day of the assassination.
Asked about what she expects out of the court's judgment next week when it is likely to end the case, Çetin said they demand life sentences with no possibility of parole for the instigators of the murder.
“It is up to the court to rule. The court is willing to reach a judgment soon because of a possibility of discharge since the suspects have been on trial for almost five years now,” she said.
Meanwhile, Yasin Hayal, accused of having solicited Dink's shooter, Ogün Samast, to carry out the murder, told the court on Monday once more that he was used by the state to carry out the murder but now claims that the same state is trying to get rid of him.
Upon Hayal's claims, Çetin asked him during the hearing who those people were using Hayal. Hayal repeated his previous claims that these people were Tuncel and Ramazan Akyürek, head of the National Police Department's intelligence unit.
Çetin repeated that they had asked the court to summon several witnesses to court in order to uncover the truth, but their demands were rejected. Those officials included Celalettin Cerrah, head of the İstanbul Police Department at the time; Ahmet İlhan Güler, director of the İstanbul intelligence unit at the time; Reşat Altay, director of the Trabzon Police Department at the time; and Akyürek.
According to the Dink family's lawyers, bureaucracy and institutions resist solving the murder in its entirety because there is a lack of political will to move the investigation along.
After the finalization of the case by the İstanbul 14th High Criminal Court, the Dink case is supposed to go to the Supreme Court of Appeals.
“The İstanbul court demanded the prosecution examine the TİB records more thoroughly. If there is new evidence, the case could be reopened with an additional indictment,” Çetin said.