Ogün Samast, the convicted murderer of Hrant Dink, a renowned Armenian journalist and editor-in-chief of the newspaper Agos, was released on Wednesday, sparking a wave of condemnation and intense debate within the Turkish political sphere.
Samast assassinated Dink in a gun attack in front of the Agos office in Şişli, Istanbul, on 19 January 2007, and was released from Bolu F Type Prison under conditional release terms. A minor at the time of the crime, Samast served 16 years and 10 months, sentenced with “premeditated murder” and “possession of an unlicensed firearm”.
The Hrant Dink support group, known as ‘Hrant’ın Arkadaşları’, condemned the release, saying, “While the Hrant Dink murder remains unsolved, many of our friends, human rights defenders, journalists, and politicians are unjustly and unlawfully held in prisons, the murderer of Hrant Dink, Ogün Samast, has been released… There is no justice! No conscience! No integrity!”
Samast’s was reportedly released due to ‘good behaviour’. This decision has been met with strong criticism from various political leaders, who question the justification of releasing someone convicted of such a heinous crime.
Main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) Chairman Özgür Özel expressed disbelief and dismay at the release, highlighting the premeditated nature of the murder and its significant impact on the Armenian community in Turkey. He criticised the notion of ‘good behaviour’ in the context of such a brutal act.
Further political reactions include Parliament Deputy Speaker Sırrı Süreyya Önder of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Equality and Democracy Party (HEDEP), who paid respects to Dink’s memory, and Gökhan Günaydın, Deputy Group Chairman of the CHP, who emphasised Dink’s role in bridging the Armenian-Turkish divide. Günaydın also raised concerns about the justice system, questioning the rationale behind Samast’s release while many prisoners of conscience remain incarcerated.
HEDEP Group Deputy Chairwoman Meral Danış Beştaş described the release as a “grave news”, contrasting it with the ongoing imprisonment of democrats and freedom of expression advocates. Felicity Party Deputy Group Chairman İsa Mesih Şahin echoed these sentiments, criticising the paradox of releasing a convicted murderer while non-violent offenders remain jailed.
The release of Samast has reopened discussions on judicial reform and the influence of politics in legal proceedings, highlighting concerns over the treatment of criminals versus political prisoners in Turkey.
Hrant Dink’s assassination and subsequent legal proceedings
Dink was assassinated on 19 January 2007 by 17-year old Ogün Samast. Samast was arrested in Samsun the following day and incarcerated.
The court filed a criminal complaint against Samast and others for membership of the Fethullah Gülen Organisation (FETÖ), the group accused of plotting the 15 July 2016 coup attempt, linking the murder to their objectives.
Several individuals, including journalist Ercan Gün and former soldier Muharrem Demirkale, received varying prison sentences for related crimes. Cases against some former police chiefs were dismissed due to the statute of limitations.
The case involved 130 hearings, with the prosecution presenting its final opinion in December 2020. The prosecutor requested various outcomes for the defendants, including acquittals and punishments. Some defendants were arrested for prior knowledge of the murder, and others denied connections with FETÖ.
Following Dink’s assassination, the suspect was quickly identified from security footage. Controversy arose when images of Samast with police officers were broadcast, raising questions about official involvement in the murder.
At the funeral, Hrant Dink’s wife, Rakel Dink, said, “No matter their age, 17 or 27, no matter who the murderer is, I know they were once babies. Nothing can be done, my brothers, without questioning the darkness that turns a baby into a murderer.”
Hrant Dink’s family’s statement on court judgement
Dink’s family expressed strong dissatisfaction with the court’s judgment on his murder, stating it was “far from the truth”. They highlighted that the judgment failed to address the deeper state mechanisms and the broader context of events leading to Dink’s assassination.
Before his assassination, Dink had spoken about being targeted by deep state operations, as recalled by his family. He had written about being chosen as a target and mentioned this in his last speeches, indicating a systematic campaign against him.
The family criticised the investigation for neglecting key aspects and individuals mentioned by Dink, and for evidence spoliation and misdirection. They argued that the trial did not adequately address these issues, leading to a judgment that appears to punish the exposure of a crime rather than the crime itself.
The family pointed out the alleged connection between Dink’s murder and the FETÖ organisation, responsible for the 15 July 2016 coup attempt. They lamented that a timely and effective investigation into Dink’s murder could have potentially prevented the loss of many lives in subsequent years.
Questioning the integrity of the judiciary, the family suggested that the current environment is conducive to injustice and similar to the climate when Dink was targeted. They expressed concern about ongoing racism and the potential for future crimes if the deep state mechanism is not thoroughly investigated and dismantled.
Dink’s family continue to emphasise an urgent need for transparency, democracy and legal reform. They advocate for societal confrontation with the crime, the criminals’ confrontation with their actions, and institutional accountability.