Dink family lawyers concerned about safety of secret witness

Lawyers representing the family of slain journalist Hrant Dink say information a secret witness is willing to provide about the murder is highly important but note that they don’t want to comment in detail for fear of his safety, Today’s Zaman reports.

Dink family lawyer Fethiye Çetin was quoted by the Star daily on Thursday as saying she knew that information from the unnamed witness was likely to change the course of the Dink murder investigation, but also noted that she and the other lawyers didn’t want the witness to get wide press coverage, fearing for his safety. Secret witnesses in other trials have understandably changed their testimonies later due to intimidation – such as in the case of the Cizre murders trial where a colonel stands accused of having established a death squad under the gendarmerie force.

The secret witness emerged unexpectedly when he wrote to prosecutors earlier this year saying he had comprehensive information about the background of the 2007 murder of Turkish-Armenian journalist Dink, who was the editor-in-chief of the Agos weekly at the time. He said he is willing to share everything he knows about the network behind the murder in return for witness protection. His initials are M.A., according to the Star daily, and it has been confirmed that he is an inmate at a prison doing jail time for a homicide conviction. The person, who says he will talk to the court in return for protection both for himself and his family, claims he worked for JİTEM, an illegal organization that was established in the gendarmerie in the 1990s to fight terrorism but employed illegitimate and often brutal methods. He also wrote in his initial letter that he was involved in the planning phase of the murder and has valuable information regarding the planning and the aftermath of the assassination, but stated that he fears his fate might be like that of Mustafa Duyar, one of three members of the Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party/Front (DHKP/C) involved in the 1995 murder of businessman Özdemir Sabancı. Witnesses claimed Duyar was killed because he knew too much about those behind the Sabancı murder.

Hakan Bakırcıoğlu, another lawyer representing the Dink family, confirmed that the letter and testimony written by the secret witness had been relayed to the court. However, like Çetin, he also said they weren’t willing to talk at length about the witness and what he knows due to safety concerns. Bakırcıoğlu said: “This development [submission of statement to court] wasn’t made public due to fears for the witness’s safety. We will not make any statements at this point so that the process can move forward in a sound manner.”

Orhan Dink, the late journalist’s brother, also responded to questions about the new witness, saying: “The secret witness is giving out very important information. He also says he has more information. Every piece of new information is important.”

In another related development, Muammer Akkaş, the prosecutor conducting the investigation into the Dink assassination, will soon hear the secret witness’s testimony under high security measures, according to reports. The İstanbul 2nd Juvenile Criminal Court — which is hearing the murder trial because the shooter who gunned Dink down was a minor at the time of the assassination — has ordered that the witness be included in a witness protection program, reports said.

Dink was shot dead in broad daylight on Jan. 19, 2007, by an ultranationalist teenager outside the offices of his newspaper in İstanbul.

The Dink murder case is currently under review by the Supreme Court of Appeals, following an appeal filed by Dink family lawyers.

The local court delivered its controversial ruling in the Dink murder case on Jan. 17, 2012, acquitting all 19 suspects of charges of membership in any kind of criminal organization. The court’s decision drew widespread ire in Turkey as people took to the streets to protest the verdict.

The local court handed down a sentence of life imprisonment for Yasin Hayal, a prime suspect in the murder of Dink, for inciting murder, and life without the possibility of parole for Ogün Samast, the hitman. Erhan Tuncel, another suspect in the case, was acquitted of murder charges. Tuncel received 10 years, six months for an unrelated bombing of a McDonald’s restaurant in 2004.

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