Turkish Trials Spur Reform of Police, Judiciary

Article excerpt

For years, debate about the fairness of Turkey's police and judiciary has simmered here. Now, two high-profile murder trials under way are bringing new light to underlying concerns and spurring stalled efforts for reform. The new intensity of discussion suggests a step toward transparency, though experts are still critical of the institutions.

On Jan. 19, Turkey will mark the first anniversary of outspoken Armenian journalist Hrant Dink's killing, which has been surrounded by accusations of police and prosecutorial impropriety.

Such claims have gained new momentum with the trial for the murder of three Christians in a Bible publishing house last spring. Since the trial opened in November, press reports emerged alleging police collusion in the murders and accused prosecutors in the central Turkish city of Malatya of seriously mishandling the investigation. The allegations were brought by lawyers representing the families of the victims, based on evidence introduced to the court.

As shocked as Turks have been by the accusations in the Dink and Malatya cases, observers say the fact that they are coming to light so quickly represents in itself a kind of step forward.

"There have been a lot of political murders and crimes in the past in Turkey, but it was always very difficult to find out who did it," says Hakan Bakircioglu, a lawyer representing Dink's family at the trial. "These two cases might be the first time we can find the murderers and maybe not catch, but at least touch, the members of state organizations who might be behind the crimes."

Dink's murder on an Istanbul sidewalk last January was quickly followed up by reports that top police officials had been informed months before about a plot by Turkish nationalists to kill him. Meanwhile, a video showing several policemen proudly posing with the murder suspect after he was caught surfaced soon after the murder.

In the Malatya case, press reports have indicated that the suspects, also young nationalists, had phone conversations with police and possibly even with a prosecutor from Istanbul in the months before the murders, something that was not followed up by the prosecutors. The police in Malatya have been accused in the press of destroying videotapes recorded in the hospital room of one of the accused, who injured himself during the crime. …