Five witnesses, including former Istanbul Governor Muammer Güler, testify over three days of hearings

CANSU PİŞKİN, İSTANBUL

The trial of intelligence officers, gendarmerie and law enforcement officials allegedly involved in the murder of Hrant Dink, the founder and editor-in-chief of the Armenian-Turkish bilingual weekly Agos, resumed on 11 June at the 14th High Criminal Court of Istanbul.

Dink was assassinated on 19 January 2007 outside the Agos weekly’s offices in Istanbul. Seventeen-year-old Ogün Samast had fired three shots at Dink’s head from the back at point blank range. The case into Dink’s murder has been ongoing since 2007.

On 24 October 2004, Yasin Hayal carried out a bomb blast at a McDonald’s restaurant in Trabzon. Hayal was released after serving jail for 10 months. In October 2005, the Intelligence Branch of Trabzon recorded that Hayal expressed strong anti-Armenian sentiment and planned to carry out an act in Istanbul. The tip came from Erhan Tuncel, an intelligence officer stationed in Trabzon. On 15 February 2006, Trabzon Intelligence Branch recorded that Yasin Hayal intended to go to Istanbul and kill Hrant Dink. This tip was sent to the Istanbul and Ankara Intelligence Bureaus. After this tip was received, Erhan Tuncel was dismissed from his post. On 19 January 2007, Dink was shot dead.

P24 monitored the latest hearing, also attended by HDP Deputy Garo Paylan and the group “Hrant’s Friends.”

Defendants Reşat Altay, Muhittin Zenit, Volkan Şahin and Ali Öz, who is under house arrest, were in attendance. Ramazan Akyürek addressed the court from Silivri Prison and Muharrem Demirkale from Sincan Prison via the courtroom video-conferencing system SEGBİS. Demirkale requested to be held exempt due to having another hearing to attend. The court accepted his request.

On the first day of the hearing witness Mustafa Kuletaş, who at the time was employed at the Trabzon Counter-Terrorism Bureau, testified. Kuletaş addressed the court via SEGBİS from the prison in Çanakkale he is serving in for FETÖ (Fethullahist Terrorist Organization) membership. He had to be reminded the case he was asked to testify for.

At the time when Kuletaş was responsible for recording the interrogations conducted by the Bureau, the perpetrator of the Trabzon McDonalds’ bombing, Yasin Hayal and Erhan Tuncel who later went on to instigate Dink’s murder, were interrogated by the Trabzon Bureau. However so much time had lapsed, according to Kuletaş that he failed to remember anything significant in relation to the events.

Next, undetained defendant Muhittin Zenit, who at the time was a police officer for the Trabzon Intelligence Bureau addressed court and claimed that he had attempted to inform officials about the intelligence he received concerning the plot to murder Dink, 11 months before Dink’s murder. Zenit spoke on the phone with Hayal half an hour after the murder of Dink.  He asked witness Kuletaş, who, gave the order to arrest Erhan Tuncel after the bombing of McDonald’s and who later ordered his release. Kuletaş responded “The chief of the Counter Terrorism Bureau (TEM) Branch ordered his arrest but I don’t know who ordered his release.”

Muhammet Çağrı Kırmacı, who was a student in Trabzon at the time, took the witness stand. Connecting to the hearing from Erzurum via SEGBİS, Kırmacı too, didn’t know why he was called to testify. The presiding judge told him that four witnesses in the case had mentioned his name while giving their defense statements and asked him about five suspects in the case. Kırmacı however, initially claimed not to remember two of the five suspects although Zenit, one of the suspects he claimed not to remember, knew Kırmacı well enough to have met his family, according to another suspect. After being further pressed on this issue Kırmacı eventually remembered meeting Zenit but claimed that he didn’t know at the time that Zenit was an intelligence officer.

Dink family lawyer Hakan Bakırcıoğlu told Kırmacı that Yasin Hayal claimed to have told Mustafa Öztürk that he intended to kill Dink. Bakırcıoğlu asked Kırmacı if Mustafa Öztürk, who was Kırmacı’s roommate at the time, shared this information with him. Kırmacı claimed to not have known anything about it.

The next day, on June 12, the 94th hearing in the trial was held.

Muammer Güler, who was the governor of Istanbul between 17 February 2003-1 June 2010, was accompanied by his bodyguards to the courthouse. It was observed that Güler was rather aggressive and nervous.

Güler said that the Istanbul Police Department took the necessary precautions at the time Dink was being prosecuted for “insulting Turkishness” over an article about Sabiha Gökçen, who was Atatürk’s adopted daughter and is the world’s first female war pilot. He said that the Istanbul Police Department was investigating the topic and only one intelligence report out of 20 or so composed by the Trabzon Police about a plot to murder Dink was sent to the Istanbul Police. He added that Dink did not make a security request.

Lawyer Bakırcıoğlu asked Güler about a meeting that took place on 24 February 2004 at the Istanbul Governorship. Güler responded by saying that the meeting was not related in any way to the murder. In Dink’s article series that began to be published a week before his death, he had mentioned a meeting he had at the Istanbul Governorship with Ergün Güngör, who was the lieutenant governor responsible of minorities.

Bakırcıoğlu reminded Güler that Güler had filed a security precaution for writer Orhan Pamuk at the time although like Dink he had not requested security. Why had Güler not done the same for Dink? Güler reiterated his previous claim that he had not received a request from intelligence units in relation to this.

Mehmet Köksal, the lawyer representing Celalettin Cerrah, addressed the court. Cerrah was the Istanbul Chief of Police when Dink was murdered. Köksal asked Güler if the negligence of Cerrah might have played a role in Dink’s death. Güler denied any negligence on the part of Cerrah.

After Güler the court heard Adem Polat, who was doing his military service from February 2006 to May 2007 at the Trabzon Provincial Gendermarie Command. Polat addressed the court from Ağrı via SEGBİS. He said that he did not know the defendants before the murder.

Another person who was doing his military service named Recep Koçpınar was heard after. He addressed the court from Aksaray via SEGBİS and said that he had a brief encounter with Ogün Samast, who shot Dink, while he was serving in the Pelitli district of Trabzon. He said he was out patrolling one night with Sergeant Satılmış (Volkan) Şahin when they ran into Samas and Şahin greeted Samast.

Koçpınar was asked if he knew anything about an alleged meeting between Samast and Sergeant Şahin at the Esenler Bus Terminal in Istanbul on 18 January 2007, a day before the murder. Koçpınar said that they were on their way to Edirne to turn in a fugitive and they spent a few hours at the bus terminal. Şahin dissapeared for half an hour or so according to Koçpınar. But Koçpınar said he doesn’t know if then Şahin met up with someone. Koçpınar said Şahin would also disappear for brief periods while patrolling in the Pelitli region.

Then Satılmış Şahin, who changed his first name to “Volkan” after the murder, addressed the court and denied Koçpınar’s claim that he disappeared for a few hours at the bus station. The presiding judge asked him: “Is it a coincidence that Ogün Samast happened to be at the bus station on that day?” Şahin said it was a coincidence. He said that he doesn’t know Samast but he knows Erhan Tuncel and Yasin Hayal.

On 13 June 2019 the 95th hearing took place. Imprisoned defendants Ercan Gün and Ramazan Akyürek addressed the court from Silivri Prison via SEGBİS. Muharrem Demirkale and Hamza Celepoğlu addressed the court from Sincan Prison via SEGBİS. Ali Öz, who is under house arrest, and undetained defendants Metin Yıldız and Gazi Günay were in attendance at the courtroom.

Ergün Güngör, who was supposed to testify as a witness, could not be heard due to a technical issue in the national judiciary informatics system UYAP. The presiding judge said that Güngör will be heard in the next session.

The prosecutor requested all the imprisoned defendants to remain behind bars. He also requested the files of Ahmet İskender, Erhan Tuncel, Ersin Yolcu, Osman Hayal, Salih Hacıalioğlu, Tuncay Uzundağ, Yasin Hayal, Zeynel Abidin Yavuz and Ogün Samast all of whom might be accused of crimes for which the statue of limitation might expire to be separated. He requested the case file to be sent to the Prosecutor’s Office before he presents his final opinion.

Dink family lawyer Bakırcıoğlu asked the court to address his request about a list of names to be heard by the court. The detained defendants and their lawyers requested acquittal.

The panel of judges accepted the prosecutor’s request to separate the cases of some defendants and the case file to be sent to the Prosecutor’s Office.

The court decided to send camera footage outside the Agos newspaper office on the murder day to the Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey (TÜBİTAK), for the footage to be matched with the defendants in the case. They also decided to wait on the response to the request to have National Intelligence Organization (MİT) employees testify in the trial. The trial was adjourned until 4-5-6 September 2019.

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