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Turkish ex-police chiefs given life sentences over Hrant Dink murder

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Turkish judges on Friday handed down life sentences to two former police chiefs and two top ex-security officers over the 2007 killing of a Turkish-Armenian journalist, Agence France-Presse reported, citing local media.

Seventy-six suspects were facing charges including failing to uncover the plot to kill Hrant Dink, editor-in-chief of Agos, a Turkish-Armenian bilingual newspaper.

Dink, a leading promoter of reconciliation between the Turkish and Armenian communities, was shot twice in the head outside his office in central İstanbul.

His murder plunged Turkey’s Armenian community into mourning and sparked a sprawling trial that lasted over a decade and involved senior security officers who were accused of being aware of the murder plot but failing to act.

İstanbul’s main court sentenced the city’s former police intelligence chief Ramazan Akyürek and his former deputy Ali Fuat Yılmazer to life in prison for “premeditated murder,” according to Agos.

Former top İstanbul interior ministry officers Yavuz Karakaya and Muharrem Demirkale were also given life sentences, while charges against another top city police chief were dropped due to the statute of limitations.

Ogün Samast, who was an unemployed 17-year-old at the time, had confessed to the murder and was sentenced to almost 23 years in prison in 2011.

Ali Öz, a former interior ministry commander of the Black Sea region of Trabzon where the gunman came from, was sentenced to 28 years in prison on Friday.

‘Bitter taste’

Dink’s supporters and human rights activists still believe that the most senior police officials have gone unpunished and want the investigation and trials to run on.

“Some of those responsible for this assassination, including the sponsors, have still not been prosecuted,” said Erol Önderoğlu, Turkey representative for Reporters Without Borders (RSF), who has closely followed the trial.

“This partial justice rendered after 14 years leaves a bitter taste and should not mark the end of the search for the truth.”

For years, prosecutors have looked into alleged links between the suspects and US-based Muslim preacher Fethullah Gülen, who is accused of masterminding a failed coup against President Recept Tayyip Erdoğan in 2016, although he strongly denies the charges.

The İstanbul court on Friday ruled that Dink’s murder was committed “in line with the objectives of Fetö” – a derogatory term used by the Turkish government to refer to the Gülen movement as a terrorist organization.

Journalist given 10-year prison sentence

The İstanbul 14th High Criminal Court also handed down a prison sentence of 10 years to jailed journalist Ercan Gün, who was one of the defendants in the trial, on charges of terrorist organization membership due to his alleged links to the Gülen movement.

Gün, a former news editor at FOX TV, was arrested on Aug. 25, 2016 as part of a government-led crackdown on the Gülen movement and has been behind bars since then.

Jailed journalist Ercan Gün

Gün angered Turkish authorities at the time by revealing photos of Samast, Dink’s murderer, posing with gendarmes as a hero following his detention while holding a Turkish flag. He was accused of creating the perception of ultranationalists being behind Dink’s murder. He faced an aggravated life sentence on charges of violating the constitution and a prison sentence of between seven-and-a-half and 15 years on charges of terrorist organization membership.

The journalist also faced terrorism charges on allegations that he used ByLock, a mobile phone application once widely available online and considered by the government to be a tool of secret communication among supporters of the movement and having an account at the now-closed Gülen-linked Bank Asya.

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