16 May 2013 /HANIM BÜŞRA ERDAL, İSTANBUL
The Hrant Dink murder trial has turned into a chess game with interesting steps being taken at different levels of the judiciary.
The Dink case will go back to the İstanbul 14th High Criminal Court after the Supreme Court of Appeals issues its reasoned opinion in writing. The first ever indictment in the Dink murder investigation described the case as the “act of a terrorist organization.” When the Ergenekon investigation began, those who were implicated in the murder were accused of being members of Ergenekon. Although the larger picture is slowly adding up in the Ergenekon trial, this hasn't happened in the Dink murder trial. Earlier, Prosecutor Hikmet Usta in an important move had alleged that the Dink murder had been perpetrated by the Trabzon cell of the Ergenekon organization but the court said that the hit man and his solicitor had acted alone and that there was no organization linked to the crime. In its reasoned opinion, the court agreed that the Dink murder was not an ordinary killing that was committed by a couple of individuals out of ultranationalist sentiments and that both the victim and the hit man had been chosen purposefully, but said that there was insufficient evidence to prove this. The court also noted that a larger organization seemed to be making it difficult to find evidence.
A report by the State Audit Institution (DDK) on the Dink murder trial also found that the investigation wasn't conducted adequately enough and that the public officers believed to be connected to the murder were shielded by the armor of public servant immunities. After all these developments, all eyes turned to the Supreme Court of Appeals. In January 2013, the Prosecutor's Office of the Supreme Court of Appeals said that the murder was committed by an organized crime group -- very much like Ergenekon -- and that it was committed for the purpose of creating chaos in the country. Both the lower court prosecutor and the prosecutor at the Supreme Court of Appeals found evidence indicating the existence of a “large organization behind the murder,” but the 9th Chamber said the organization was just an ordinary crime group. It also made no mention of flaws in the initial investigation, only overturning the lower court's verdict.
In the Susurluk case, the presiding judge, Sedat Karagül, who was investigating what went on in the background, was later replaced by Judge Metin Çetinbaş (who, after he retired, became a lawyer for a suspect in the Ergenekon trial) and the trial was completed in the fashion of an ordinary organized crime trial. Sabih Kanadoğlu, who was the prosecutor of the Supreme Court of Appeals at the time, requested an upholding of the lower court's decision on state gangs and the 9th chamber did just that.
In a similar vein, the lower court can now, in its second ruling, find a criminal organization and the suspects can be punished according to the related crimes, just like in the Susurluk trial. Dink lawyer Fethiye Çetin said about the ruling: “When the Prosecutor's Office of the Supreme Court of Appeals first announced its legal opinion I said, ‘We moved back six years.' Now, six-and-a-half years after the case, we are a few steps behind the point where we started. The initial trial had been launched on the premise of a terrorist organization, but the [9th Chamber] decision says it is an armed organization that was formed to commit a crime.”
There is another risk here. A parallel investigation into the activities of the public servants believed to be connected to the murder, being conducted by Prosecutor Muammer Akkaş who is in charge of investigating terrorism crimes, might be stalled if the judicial interpretation continues to be that the organization behind the murder is not a terrorist one.
A few questions beg answers in light of these developments: Why were all those judicial reforms passed if this was going to be the result? Why are the trials of state-related groups, such as the Ergenekon trial or the Balyoz coup plot trial, not being brought to completion? The Prosecutor's Office of the Supreme Court of Appeals had stated that the fact that not every detail about the organization was found during the initial phase of investigations does not change the nature of the crime committed by Dink's killers. It also said it was the duty of the state to find out more about this organization.
The Supreme Court of Appeals' decision in the Dink murder blocks such an investigation. The facts that emerged over years about the Ergenekon trial and the findings of the prosecution -- such as the murder's link to the Cage Action coup plot -- are being wiped away just like that.