Turkey: calls for reform ahead of anniversary of journalist's murder

New report shows increase in use of Article 301 ‘Gagging Law’

On the eve of the first anniversary of the killing of the Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink, Amnesty International today called on the Turkish authorities to condemn all forms of intolerance and to bring all those involved in the killing to justice in accordance with international fair trial standards. The organisation also issued a memorandum to the Turkish authorities outlining key human rights concerns in the country.

Andrew Gardner, Amnesty International's researcher on Turkey, said:

“The scope of the investigation must be widened to examine the full circumstances of Hrant Dink’s killing, including the role of law enforcement officials in failing to act on warnings that he was being targeted for assassination.

"Human rights activists have a right to the protection of the state, like any other citizen. The failure to prevent the murder of Hrant Dink and the subsequent flaws in the investigation must not be repeated.

"Hrant Dink's case is not an exception. Many in Turkey continue to be prosecuted for the peaceful expression of their non-violent opinions. This is due both to the existence of flawed legislation and the arbitrary implementation of the law by judges and prosecutors."

Hrant Dink had reported threats to his life to the Public Prosecutor in Sisli. According to the indictment in the murder trial, one of the defendants also acted as a police informer and told the police of plans to assassinate Hrant Dink in the months before the murder took place. Nevertheless, steps were not taken to ensure his protection. Subsequently two gendarmerie officers were charged with dereliction of duty; however, lawyers for the family have called for more law enforcement officers to be brought to justice.

An initial statement by the Istanbul Police Chief that the killing was the act of a gunman working alone and the photographs of military police with the alleged killer as if he was a “hero” illustrate an official reluctance to examine the full scope of the crime and contribute to the perception that sections of Turkey’s law enforcement agencies may be biased.

Amnesty International considers that Hrant Dink was shot on 19 January 2007 because of his work as a journalist who championed freedom of expression and promoted the universality of human rights.

Hrant Dink was repeatedly prosecuted under Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code that criminalises “denigrating Turkishness”. Amnesty International has continually called for Article 301 to be abolished on the grounds that it poses a grave threat to freedom of expression, as it is worded in such broad and vague terms. Amnesty International is concerned that the number of cases opened under this article appears to have increased in 2007. The organisation notes that in the past year, violations of human rights increased and measures to combat them remained insufficient.

Andrew Gardner said:

"The continuing suppression of freedom of expression in Turkey has created an atmosphere of deadly intolerance culminating in the killing of Hrant Dink.”

In a memorandum to the Turkish government, Amnesty reminded it of its commitment, repeated after elections last year, to press ahead with legislative reform and advance guarantees of human rights and freedoms. Amnesty International believes that the current government must take action on a number of issues to achieve lasting, substantive improvements. These issues include torture and ill-treatment in detention and impunity for the perpetrators, fair trial concerns, obstacles that block the work of human rights activists and freedom of expression.

Andrew Gardner said:

"In addition to implementing current legal reforms, urgent legislative reform must be adopted. The authorities must seize the opportunity to advance the protection of fundamental rights and freedoms for all in the new constitution that is being drafted.”

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