by Desmond Fernandes
Today marks the 25th anniversary of the murder of Metin Göktepe, a photojournalist at the Evrensel newspaper in Turkey.
In January 1996, Göktepe was covering the story of the funerals of two political prisoners, Orhan Özen and Rıza Boybaş, who were killed in an ‘operation’ in Istanbul’s Umraniye prison. He was detained by police when he went to Alibeyköy to cover the funeral. He was subsequently taken to the same sports stadium where hundreds of people who wanted to attend the funerals were being held, and he was severely beaten, tortured and murdered.
As Memorialise Turkey clarifies, “hundreds of other people who had attended the funeral were detained at the stadium on that day, and almost all were subject to police violence. After his death, state authorities claimed that Göktepe had died after falling from a wall”.
After a public outcry over the murder and attempted cover-up, and as a consequence of public campaigns by human rights activists, “five of the eleven police officers who had overseen torture sessions were tried and sentenced to seven years and six months imprisonment. Those officers remained in prison for 17 months, but were released following an amnesty for prisoners responsible for non-terrorist crimes in 2000. The high-ranking officers who gave the order to murder” – notes Memorialise Turkey – “were never held accountable”.
The attempted cover-up
It is worth remembering the extent of the attempted cover-up and the courageous actions of individuals, journalists and Metin’s friends and relatives to expose those responsible for his murder. As Evrensel, his newspaper, reminded readers last year: “State officials tried to cover up the murder, making contradictory statements.
Prime Minister of the day, Tansu Çiller, and Istanbul Police Chief, Orhan Taşanlar, claimed Metin Göktepe had not been arrested. Eyüp Republic Prosecutor Erol Canözkan stated that he had been arrested but fell from a chair while sitting in the tea garden having turned faint and Interior Minister Teoman Ünüsan, conversely, stated that he died having fallen from the sports hall wall. For their part, those who had been released after having been held for a time under arrest insisted that Metin had been killed by the police while under arrest and his body had been taken from among the other arrestees and carried off”.
“Metin’s big brother, İbrahim Göktepe”, reported Evrensel, “gave a statement to Eyüp Republic Prosecutor Erol Canözkan and said he was making a complaint, declaring that Metin had been killed by the police while under arrest. Evrensel newspaper proprietor Vedat Korkmaz petitioned Istanbul Provincial Governate for the opening of an administrative investigation into the police officers. Istanbul Police Chief Orhan Taşanlar alleged it was established from camera footage that Göktepe was not among the arrestees and his name was not on the list. However, he accepted that Göktepe had been arrested in later comments. [On 13] January 1996, Visiting Association of Turkish Journalists Chair Nail Güreli … said the announcements made by official bodies concerning Göktepe’s death were unsatisfactory and stated he would be following the affair. [Eventually], on 16 January 1996, the Ministry of State with Responsibility for Human Rights brought out its report. It was said in the report: ‘Metin Göktepe was arrested and killed by the police under arrest’. As of the day Metin was arrested and killed, young journalists who were Metin’s colleagues started to live up to the slogan – ‘With insistence, each of us is Metin’ – that they would chant while monitoring hearings. Through the persistent efforts of the Göktepe family, journalists, lawyers and Metin’s paper, Evrensel, the Interior Ministry was obliged to launch an investigation”.
Metin Göktepe remembered
Memorialise Turkey reports that, “soon after Göktepe was killed, and in part as a result, journalists, human rights organizations and various pro-democracy forces began to organize to monitor these cases more effectively, since 36 journalists had already lost their lives. The civil society efforts commemorating Göktepe” have sought, “first, to create greater awareness of state-sponsored human rights violations; second, to follow the trial closely to ensure that perpetrators would not enjoy impunity; and third, to keep Göktepe’s memory alive through a variety of memorialization methods.
“The first memorialization effort began a year after Göktepe’s death. A ‘Metin Göktepe Award’ was established on the anniversary of his birth (10 April), to be awarded to journalists who focus mainly on human rights violations and contribute to the democratization process. Moreover, journalists and activists began to come together annually at Metin Göktepe’s gravesite and turned the Esenler cemetery into a memorial site. A march from the cemetery to the city centre, amid demands for freedom of press, has become the ritual by which Göktepe is commemorated. Furthermore, Metin Göktepe’s name was given to two parks, one in İstanbul Sancaktepe and another in İzmir Bayraklı”.
What Fatih Polat, the Editor-in-Chief of Evrensel newspaper, said at Metin’s graveside on the anniversary of his death last year (as reported by BIA News Desk last year) remains all-too-relevant today: “Reminding the audience that in Metin Göktepe’s case, it was the first time that a defendant was given a prison sentence and served time behind bars, Fatih Polat stated the following in brief: ‘A serious legal struggle was waged in the judicial process. Though we did not have our desired result in the end, it was still the first time that a defendant was convicted in a case filed into the death of a journalist. Each passing day, it is becoming more and more important to [protect investigative] journalism. The press is under siege today as well: there are lawsuits of journalists every day. There are journalists laying claim to the truth despite this siege. When we look back, Metin Göktepe, Uğur Mumcu, Musa Anter, Hrant Dink and many of our colleagues that we have lost – once again – remind us of the importance of truth and laying claim to the people’s right of information”.