Release of Armenian journalist’s murderer continues to spark outcry in Turkey

Nov 17 2023

The release of Ogün Samast, the convicted murderer of prominent Armenian journalist and editor-in-chief of Agos newspaper, Hrant Dink, continues to stir debate in Turkey on its second day. Samast’s early release, attributed to ‘good behaviour’, starkly contrasts with the ongoing detention of individuals who have not committed violent crimes, underscoring a disparity in the judicial system as noted by several observers.

The Agos newspaper questioned the resolution of the broader issues surrounding the case. “The matter is inherently grave. Yet, we must ask ourselves: [Hrant Dink’s widow] Rakel Dink, following the murder, made a striking statement about Samast [a minor at the time of the crime]: ‘The darkness that turns a baby into a killer’. We ask: Has this darkness been illuminated? We highly doubt it,” the editorial stated.

It also highlighted a missed opportunity for a more comprehensive sentence: “The lawyers of the Dink Family had also sought a sentence for ‘organisational membership’ for Samast and his co-accused. The court made a decision in this direction, but since the membership was charged under Article 220, the First Penal Chamber of the Court of Cassation led the case to expire due to the statute of limitations. Thus, Samast did not receive an additional sentence. However, the Dink Family lawyers had sought organisational membership under Article 314, which would have resulted in a longer prison term for Samast.”

The editorial concluded by emphasising that “a similar atmosphere of darkness still prevails in our country. Many dissidents are easily targeted by power circles and their media. Unbelievable accusations are made daily against Osman Kavala and the Gezi detainees. A similar situation applies to other opposition politicians and human rights defenders. Above all, we are in an environment where even the Constitutional Court is accused of ‘terrorism’ and ‘political activism’.”

Rakel Dink addressed these concerns at the 100th Year of the Republic: Minority Rights conference. “The pursuit of justice in Hrant’s murder case was not about whether a person received a few years more or less in prison. From day one, we said it was necessary to question the darkness. Finding justice in this case is essential for the democratisation of our country. Now, should we say ‘this decision is auspicious for our country?'” she remarked.

In response to Samast’s release, protests and statements were made at the former Agos office. Sera Kadıgil, an MP from the Workers’ Party of Turkey (TİP), spoke at the scene, describing Samast as “merely a pawn” and stressing the unresolved nature of the murder.

The release has also raised questions about the broader implications for Turkey’s judicial system and its approach to minority rights. Nuriye Alsancak from the Left Party, speaking at the protest, criticised the government’s handling of the case and the ongoing challenges faced by political dissidents and human rights defenders in the country.

A statement from the Labour Party (EMEP) said: “Gültan Kışanak, Can Atalay, Osman Kavala, and many others haven’t killed anyone, yet they are held without reason. Hrant Dink’s murderer, on the other hand, has been protected from the start and now has been released.”

Former Minister of Culture and Tourism Ertuğrul Günay also expressed his dismay at this development, highlighting the irony of Samast’s release: “Journalist Hrant Dink’s killer was released today. Meanwhile, people who haven’t committed any crimes and whose charges remain unclear are still detained. Where there is no justice, there can neither be peace nor prosperity.”

Journalist and Peoples’ Equality and Democracy Party (HEDEP) MP Cengiz Çandar voiced a similar, ironic sentiment:  “Osman Kavala, who never touched a weapon, received aggravated life imprisonment. Selahattin Demirtaş chose the Turkish Grand National Assembly over weapons. He’s in prison. European Court of Human Rights decisions are not applied to either of them. Ogün Samast, who was imprisoned for murdering Hrant Dink, is now free. It’s possible. Turkey is a rule of law state and the judiciary is independent!”