Turk gets life term for role in journalist killing

AP News
Posted: Jan 17, 2012 12:00 PM
Turk gets life term for role in journalist killing

A Turkish court on Tuesday sentenced a man to life in prison for masterminding the killing of an ethnic Armenian journalist hated by hardline nationalists, but acquitted all 19 suspects of charges of acting under a terrorist organization's orders.

The verdict deeply disappointed the lawyers and family of Hrant Dink, who was gunned down outside of his office five years ago. Fethiye Cetin, a lawyer for the Dink family, said the trial failed to shed light on "the darkness" _ alleged connections between the suspects and some state officials.

The case has been widely seen as a test of whether the judiciary can fully investigate possible negligence by authorities, who allegedly knew about plots to kill the journalist.

It also highlights Turkey's uneasy relationship with its ethnic and religious minorities, which include at least 60,000 Armenian Christians in a mostly Muslim nation of more than 70 million.

After the decision, hundreds of activists began marching toward the scene where Dink was gunned down outside his Agos newspaper and promised to gather again at the spot of his murder on Thursday, the fifth anniversary of the Jan. 19 killing.

"This case is not over ... for us this case is just starting," said Cetin, vowing to appeal the verdict and likening the trial process to a "comedy."

A panel of judges found Yasin Hayal guilty of instigating Dink's killing, and gave him the life term despite a plea by a prosecutor that the court should sentence seven of the suspects to life in prison, including Erhan Tuncel _ who until now has been portrayed as another key instigator.

The court, however, sentenced Tuncel to 10 1/2 years in prison for a separate crime, his role in a bombing a McDonald's restaurant in 2004 in Black Sea port city of Trabzon and ordered his release from prison since he already completed his term while awaiting a verdict.

Dink had angered nationalists and had been prosecuted under Turkish law for describing the mass killings of Armenians in the early 20th century as genocide. Turkey denies the deaths constituted genocide, insisting those killed were victims of civil war and unrest.

Gunman Ogun Samast was sentenced to nearly 23 years in prison in July for "premeditated murder" by a separate, juvenile court. Samast was allegedly connected to Hayal but the court decision suggested the suspects who know each other were not acting as a gang and that Samast carried out the assassination alone under orders from Hayal.