Friday, October 14, 2011

Dink trial: The rush for a cover-up

Four and a half years were wasted in the labyrinth of dark corridors that is Turkey's state security apparatus. When the lawyers representing the family of our murdered colleague, Hrant Dink, marched out of the courtroom in İstanbul on Monday, the overall feeling among the observers of this painful trial was one of despair. “They want to finish this trial as quickly as possible,” a lawyer told me. “It's obvious that they are rushing. The prosecutor truly tried his best to uncover the machinery of murder behind the crime, but my sense is that he felt increasing pressure from above to wrap it up.” He did. Despite attempts by the lawyers to delve deeper into the investigation, in an attempt to expose all of those people with direct or indirect involvement in the planning and execution of the murder, and also those who were engaged in covering it up, the court insisted that Hikmet Usta, the prosecutor in the case, read his final plea for the seven accused. He demanded a two life terms in prison for each of them. But there was an element of extraordinary importance in the plea. It talked at length about secret gangs that seemed impossible to uncover. Usta said: “The Dink assassination was only the latest one to come out of deeply hidden structures within Turkey. The suspects acted on ideological motives, of which the target was the Turkish Republic and public order. There is suspicion that the murder is linked to the Ergenekon network. We have reached the conclusion that the Dink murder was committed by the Trabzon cell of the Ergenekon terrorist organization.” Further on, the plea also argued -- without any proof -- that links existed between the so-called “Malatya missionary murders” and the killing of Father Andrea Santoro in Trabzon on Feb. 5, 2006, drawing attention to the common patterns shared by the killings. This statement, together with mentions of the prosecution's “inability of to expose the secret cells and links,” was spectacular, yet highly problematic, because the prosecutor simply mentioned these points, while remaining silent about whether or not the court should continue to take its time to penetrate further and find the masterminds behind the assassination. It is obvious that forces from above want the case closed as quickly as possible. Why the hurry? One explanation is technical. Because of the nature of the case, the accused cannot be kept in detention for more than five years. A lawyer told me that “the time limit will be passed in January of next year, and the court may be concerned that all of the accused may be released, if no verdict is issued by then.” But there is much more to it. Month after month, trial after trial, the lawyers have done all they can to help the court collect evidence, which they were certain linked the local gendarmerie and police, and their superiors in Ankara, with the crime. All this seems to have been in vain, because most of the evidence collected by the Trabzon Police is known to have been destroyed. If the case is closed rapidly, all those responsible will be able to get away with the murder. The Dink trial has been followed closely, because it is a test case of whether or not the rule of law will apply, and all in the state security apparatus that are found to have been involved will be held accountable. This critical test has now more or less failed. The lawyers believe there is nothing more, in legal terms, to do. “The only thing that remains is for the media, for everyone with a conscience, to keep a speaking out loudly, and demand justice, putting pressure on the government, because it has the internal tools to investigate those secret cells within the state,” Fethiye Çetin, a lawyer and a close associate of the Dink family, told me. Most likely, the court will declare its verdict when it assembles in November, after hearing the defense. The killer, Ogün Samast, has already been sentenced to 12 years in prison, as he was only 17 when he pulled the trigger. The rest, those seven, were simply front figures, according to the prosecutor. “It is not logical that a university student and a simit seller would be the leaders of an organization responsible for one of the most serious political murders in this country's history,” Çetin said. So, in bizarre circumstances, we stand between a major failure of justice and a horrible scandal for the justice system. But the search for the truth in this case will not end next month; it will continue to test the quality of our democracy. 2011-09-20

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