April 19, 2016 / 3:57 PM / a year ago

Senior Turkish police go on trial over murder of Armenian editor

3 Min Read

ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Senior Turkish security officials were among 34 defendants put on trial on Tuesday accused of links to the murder of Armenian journalist Hrant Dink a decade ago.

Lawyers for Dink's family hope the trial will prove that state authorities were involved in a conspiracy to silence the newspaper editor, although they say some key suspects continue to evade charges.

Dink, who ran Agos, a newspaper serving Turkey's 60,000 Christian Armenians, was gunned down in broad daylight on a busy Istanbul street in 2007.

He had made enemies by writing and talking about the mass killings in 1915 of up to 1.5 million Armenians by Ottoman Turks, an event Armenians say was genocide but which Turkey casts as intercommunal warfare, and faced court cases at the time of his death.

The teenage gunman and his instigator were sentenced in 2012 but an appeals court overturned the verdict. An indictment prepared in late 2015 accused the officials now on trial of running a criminal network, destroying evidence, dereliction of duty and official misconduct.

Their case has been combined with the murder re-trial.

The European Union, which Turkey hopes to join, has criticized the slow pace of the prosecution and expressed concern about impunity for law enforcement officials in general.

"This is an important day. We have been working for nine years to see these police and intelligence chiefs in court," Garo Paylan, an opposition lawmaker and member of Istanbul's Armenian community, told Reuters outside the courthouse.

"We wanted to see other public figures here but ... if the court does its job, I believe we will get closer to the truth."

Among the defendants are Engin Dinc, head of intelligence for the national police, his predecessor Ramazan Akyurek, former Istanbul police chief Celalettin Cerrah and Istanbul police's ex-intelligence chief Ali Fuat Yilmazer. They deny wrongdoing.

Some of those on trial were previously accused of involvement in leaking details of a corruption probe into President Tayyip Erdogan's inner circle in 2013 when he was prime minister.

The corruption investigation was later shelved and opposition lawmaker Sezgin Tanrikulu said Tuesday's trial was an attempt to settle scores.

"One side of a power struggle is on trial here," he told Reuters at the courthouse.

Dink saw his role as a journalist as a way to improve dialogue between Turks and Armenians and eradicate the taboo of discussing the genocide, whose 101st anniversary will be marked on April 24.

Editing by Nick Tattersall and Robin Pomeroy

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