The Case of Hrant Dink

Incitement to Violence as Free Speech

In January, the Armenian journalist Hrant Dink was shot by a nationalist in Turkey, but the people behind the murder have still not been caught. In Berlin, Henriette Wrege met Hrant Dink's lawyer, Fethiye Cetin

A demonstrator holds up a picture of Hrant Dink (photo: AP)
For human rights activists the Hrant Dink trial is a test-case for the independence of Turkish justice

​​When a court in Turkey sentenced Arat Dink on charges of insulting Turkishness, the judge justified the relatively severe sentence by referring to the origins of the accused. Arat Dink is the son of Hrant Dink, who was shot dead in January by a seventeen-year-old right-wing extremist for his Armenian roots and his statements concerning Turkish-Armenian relations.

Fethiye Cetin says that, in such an atmosphere of aggressive nationalism and almost war hysteria, the minorities in Turkey feel that their right to live peacefully is under massive threat. Fethiye Cetin is a lawyer from Istanbul who represents the Dink family, as well as Hrant Dink's publisher, in the Istanbul courts.

Incitement against minorities as freedom of opinion

Cetin has been fighting for the rights of minorities for years. So it is no surprise that her name is also to be found on the hate pages of the ultranationalist websites. The incitement, says Cetin, reaches everyone who is in any way different from the Turks themselves – whether Kurds, or Armenians or other Christians.

​​"Nothing happens to the people who issue calls to violence against minorities," she says. "But if minorities stand up for their rights, then they face charges."

It's true that there are laws, like paragraph 216 of the Turkish criminal code, which impose penalties for incitement to hatred or enmity among the population. But they are not used. On the other hand, Fethiye Cetin says that there are still hundreds of journalists, artists and intellectuals who are facing charges of insulting Turkishness under paragraph 301 of the Turkish criminal code.

The state is being protected from its own citizens

"It's my opinion that this law has to be repealed," she says. "This law puts the state and its institutions under special protection. But these are institutions which already have power. They are strong, but they are nevertheless placed under special protection against the individual citizen. I believe that, in a democratic state, the individual has to be protected – if necessary against the state itself."

But even the announcement that the government is planning to revise some details of the law has given rise to massive protests from the nationalist opposition. Cetin says that people are even claiming that the Erdogan government simply wants people in future to be allowed to insult Turkishness.

As she points out, "In the last clause of the law, it says, 'Statements which are intended as legitimate criticism are not subject to this law.' But it's hard to define where criticism ends and insult begins. Aside from that, the term 'Turkishness' leaves a lot of room for interpretation: what is Turkishness? It implies an inequality between Turks and other ethnic groups in Turkey if only the ethnic Turkish group is protected from insult and vilification while the others aren't."

The case as a test of Turkish justice

Fethiye Cetin represents Hrant Dink's family as joint plaintiffs in the case against the eighteen members of the far-right youth organisation in the town of Trabzon. The seventeen-year-old who allegedly shot Hrant Dink and his accomplices were caught very soon after the event. Cetin says that this makes this trial very different from earlier trials for political killings.

But she adds, "In spite of these arrests, we still can't say that Hrant Dink's murder has been solved. There are many very varied pieces of information relating to the murder and the preparation for it which have not been followed up and investigated. It's hard to imagine that a seventeen-year-old who had never been in Istanbul before should travel to the city carrying a weapon, stand in front of the Agos publishing house, and shoot Hrant Dink. There must have been contacts, and these contacts have so far not been discovered."

For the organisation "Human Rights Watch" this trial is a test-case for the independence of Turkish justice. Among the issues which the trial will have to clarify is how far Turkish security circles were involved in the murder. Fathiye Cetin points to evidence which has disappeared.

For example, the videotapes of the security cameras were taken, but now the tapes dealing with the relevant times can no longer be found.

On the second day of the trial, it emerged that the alleged killer's main accomplice and contact is a member of the secret services. Fathiye Cetin says that makes it clear that the secret services certainly knew about the plot.

Henriette Wrege

© DEUTSCHE WELLE/Qantara.de 2007

Translated from the German by Michael Lawton

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