A series of actions commemorating writers and journalists killed in recent years as part of PEN International’s focus on Killings with Impunity in 2012
Five years ago, on this day, 19 January 2007, at three in the afternoon, Hrant Dink, the editor of the Armenian language Agos newspaper, stepped outside his office in Istanbul to go to an ATM machine a few doors away to draw out cash. Moments later he was dead, shot in the head by a teenaged gunman, Ogün Samast. Today, two people are in prison for his murder, but a wider criminal network that was behind the killing, including state officials, have been exonerated.
Earlier this week, on 17 January 2012, Yasin Hayal, an ultra nationalist militant, was sentenced by the 14th High Criminal Court in Istanbul to life imprisonment for having masterminded the murder. (Samast , who was just 17 in 2007 had been convicted in July 2011 to 22 years and ten months in prison, the longest term that can be served against a juvenile.) However, another man, Erhan Tuncel, who was accused alongside Hayal, was acquitted of the killing, although he was sentenced to ten years in prison for another crime, the bombing of a McDonalds restaurant in 2004.
The same court also acquitted 19 people, including Hayal and Tuncel, of being members of a criminal organisation. Hrant Dink’s lawyers and supporters have over the past five years fought to have evidence that the murder was carried out by a wider network that included state officials. There had been many irregularities in the trial including CCTV footage that would have recorded the murder scene having gone missing, other evidence getting “lost”, and police and security officials deliberately misleading the court. Dink’s lawyers’ attempts to have police who had been told in advance that Dink was to be killed and had ignored the warnings were rejected.
The court’s decision has been met with widespread shock. After hearing the verdict, hundreds of supporters gathered at the spot where Dink had died to protest the decision. Talking to the press today, 19 January, the judge presiding the case, Rüstem Eryılma, expressed his own frustration with the verdict saying that while there was not sufficient evidence to prove that a wider organisation had been involved, this does not necessarily mean that such an organisation did not exist.
Hrant Dink’s murder in 2007 sparked mass demonstrations, with tens of thousands of people taking to the streets bearing placards with slogans such as “We are all Hrant Dink” in Turkish and Armenian, as well as Kurdish. The response was unprecedented and the shock of his death was profound. Dink had been widely admired in Turkey and abroad for his campaign for the Turkish government to acknowledge that there had been an Armenian genocide in 1915, while at the same time Dink fostered understanding between Armenians and Turks. Dink stood out as a true peacemaker despite the enormous risk to himself.
For years Dink, and the staff at his news paper, the Armenian language Agos, had lived under constant death threat. He spoke of receiving thousands of threatening emails. Yet he continued to write and publish, leading to his prosecution three times between 2002 and 2006 for “denigrating Turkishness”. He was one of the most high profile persons to be prosecuted under the notorious Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code, which provided prison terms for anyone who dares to “insult” the Turkish states, specifically through suggesting that there had been an Armenian genocide. Indeed, it is thought that his prosecution under this law in effect gave permission to ultra nationalists to believe they could murder with impunity. In January 2007, as the thousands marched the streets in protest at Dink’s killing, ultra-nationalists were jubilant, famously including a group of policemen who broadcast a video of themselves on Youtube singing in celebration of his death. Also, chillingly, at the same time a list of scores of writers, academics, journalists and others targeted for assassination was uncovered, including noted authors Orhan Pamuk and Elif Shafak, and activists such as publisher Ragip Zarakolu, leading many to go into hiding or live under armed guard.
Soon after Dink’s murder, came the first of what was to be a series of mass arrests of leading military, political, police, intellectual and other figures. Now numbering over 200, they are accused of membership of a neo-nationalist organisation known as Ergenekon. Its aim is said to be to to overthrow the government and it is linked to assassinations, including that of Hrant Dink, and to have been behind the plans to kill writers. But while the first of Ergenekon arrests may be legitimate, there are now concerns that with subsequent arrests that the net is too widely flung and that this investigation, and similar ones since, is being used as an excuse to arrest critics of the government. One stark example is the imprisonment since early last year of two writers Nedim Şener and Ahmet Şik because of their books exposing alleged links between police and a religious organisation, the Gülen Foundation, charges widely seen as ridiculous.
Today, five years on from Hrant Dink’s death Article 301 still exists, although in a modified form. The Anti Terror Law is being increasingly used to penalise legitimate commentary and activities. Rather than falling, the numbers of writers and journalists in prison in Turkey today has risen dramatically and rose even further up in the final months of 2011 when over 40 were arrested, accused of support for terrorism, many of them only for writing and speaking on Kurdish issues or for their affiliation to Kurdish organisations. Among them is the respected publisher and long time free expression and minority rights activist, Ragip Zarakolu. See recent PEN Alert, With events moving fast, it is difficult to keep track of the detentions, but the current figure could be around 100. This, coupled with the fact that officials who had plotted and rejoiced in Dink’s murder are unlikely to face justice makes the situation for free speech in Turkey today very bleak indeed.
Write to the Turkish Minister of Justice, copying the statement below or using your own words.
PEN International is shocked by the decision not to investigate the existence of a wide criminal network implicated in the killing of Hrant Dink, and thus allowing those who instigated his murder, and ignored warnings of his imminent assassination to do escape justice.
This comes at a time when detentions of writers and journalists have escalated with around 100 in prison, many on charges directly relating to their writings, and others for their association with banned groups. There is acute cause for alarm about the downwards turn for the state of free expression in Turkey, and that anti terror legislation is being used to penalise legitimate commentary and actions.
PEN International calls for a halt to prosecutions and arrests of those whose only “crime” is to speak out and share their views.
Mr Sadullah Ergin
Minister of Justice
Email: email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
• Copy your message to the Turkish ambassador in your country
Find the address here – Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs
• Send a message to the Hrant Dink family via Agos magazine
Sebat Apartman No: 192 Kat 1
Turkey email: email@example.com
• Network, for those who are on these networks, post a notice on your Facebook, website, twitter page remembering Hrant Dink
• View and share these videos made prior to the verdict by artists that testify to the depth of feeling against the crime and the trial outcome http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fbnn4NVHNhw
For further information please contact Sara Whyatt at PEN International PEN Writers in Prison Committee, Brownlow House, 50/51 High Holborn, London WC1V 6ER, Tel.+ 44 (0) 20 7405 0338, Fax: +44 (0) 20 7405 0339, email: firstname.lastname@example.org