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Turkey remembers murdered journalist

By Ivan Watson, CNN
updated 12:04 PM EST, Thu January 19, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Hrant Dink was gunned down outside his newspaper in 2007
  • A scoccer player was convicted, but accused accomplices are set free
  • Crowd of thousands calls for justice

Istanbul (CNN) -- A crowd estimated at more than 10,000 people marched silently on a bitterly cold day through downtown Istanbul Thursday to commemorate the five year anniversary of the murder of an ethnic Armenian journalist Hrant Dink.

They walked carrying a sea of black signs declaring "We are all Hrant, we are all Armenian," written in Turkish and Armenian.

Police, who put the crowd estimate at 10,000 or more, blocked off traffic as the crowds moved towards the offices of the Armenian language Agos newspaper.

On January 19, 2007, Dink, the newspaper's editor in chief, was gunned down in broad daylight on the sidewalk outside the newspaper's offices. Dink, in the opinion of observers, had been an eloquent spokesman for Turkey's tiny minority of Armenians.

A 17-year-old Turkish ultra nationalist soccer player was caught with the murder weapon and later convicted of the killing.

But on Tuesday an Istanbul court attracted condemnation from members of the Dink family as well as human rights groups when 19 suspected accomplices in the murder where all acquitted of charges of being members of a terrorist organization that plotted the assassination.

"The verdict was not only a travesty of justice, it shows our justice system is simply political and does not work," said newspaper columnist Asli Aydintasbas, as she marched along with her mother and thousands of others up Istanbul's Cumhuriyet Caddesi, the broad boulevard where Dink was shot dead.

"So many journalists are in jail charged with terrorism only because of their writing," Aydintasbas added, "whereas the actual guys who killed a journalist and who had clear connections with state officials... they're not charged with terrorism. Some are even let go."

According to the Turkish Journalists Union there are currently more than 90 media workers behind bars, many of them facing charges of alleged membership in terrorist organizations and coup plots to overthrow the government.

A Parliament member from Turkey's ruling party added to the chorus of criticism Thursday in a newspaper column describing the trial as a "disgrace."

"Apart from offending our civic conscience and eroding our limited trust in justice in this country, Tuesday's verdict is also an insult to this nation's intelligence," wrote lawmaker Suat Kiniklioglu in the English-language Today's Zaman. "Despite the clear evidence that confirms links with state officials both before and after Hrant's murder, it is clear that the deep state wants this link to be covered up."

"Deep state" is the term many Turks use to refer to alleged criminal networks within security forces and the government bureaucracy.

Many members of the crowd of thousands carrying portraits of Dink on Thursday chanted "fascist state."

Before his murder Dink was on trial for "insulting Turkishness" because he referred to the World War I-era massacre of hundreds of thousands of ethnic Armenian as genocide. The Turkish government vehemently rejects using that term to refer to that bloody chapter of history.

But while attracting the anger of Turkish ultra-nationalists, Dink was also outspoken in his defense of freedom of speech. Three months before his murder, Dink gave an interview to U.S. National Public Radio, in which he argued against a proposed law in France to make the denial of the Armenian genocide a crime.

"Those who use this Armenian issue as a political tool are massacring my people over and over again," Dink said.

In that October 2006 interview, Dink also warned that he had received multiple death threats.

According to a prosecutor's indictment, within days of Dink's shooting, the chief murder suspect Ogun Samast, was caught by police in possession of the murder weapon and the white knit hat that he was filmed wearing by a security camera, positioned on the street where Dink was killed.

After he was detained, several Turkish police officers filmed themselves treating Samast like a hero. A video that was later widely re-broadcast on Turkish television networks showed the officers posing alongside Samast, after positioning him prominently in front of a Turkish flag.

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