An Istanbul court Thursday ordered the release of four men, all gendarmerie officers, in a trial into the 2007 murder of prominent Turkish Armenian journalist Hrant Dink. The officials were arrested as part of an investigation into controversial images of the murderer, Ogün Samast, posing with gendarmes.
Atilla Güçlüoğlu, Murat Bayrak, Birol Ustaoğlu and Yüksel Avan were officers at a gendarmerie headquarters in the northern city of Samsun where Samast, then 17 years old, went after assassinating Dink in Istanbul on Jan. 19, 2007. Soon after, Samast was taken into custody in Samsun and media outlets released images of the murderer posing with the gendarmes while holding a Turkish flag. The images caused outrage as both the gendarmes and Samast apparently boasted about the murder which was then blamed on having nationalist motives.
The court said in its verdict that the defendants had no links to the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ), whose infiltrators in the police and judiciary are accused of covering up intelligence on the murder, and that their testimony showed they did not intend to portray Samast as a nationalist hero. The defendants had claimed they were ordered by their superiors to give the flag to Samast while they were simply taking photos to "make the gendarmerie unit's success in aiding the capture of Samast evident." The hearing was adjourned to October.
Eighty-five defendants are being tried in the case, including 10 who remain at large, and 25 defendants who have been jailed pending trial. FETÖ leader Fetullah Gülen, fugitive FETÖ-linked prosecutor Zekeriya Öz and former police chiefs linked to the terrorist group are among the defendants.
FETÖ used the murder to "incite chaos" in Turkey, where the thorny Armenian genocide issue strains Turkish-Armenian relations, according to prosecutors. FETÖ supporters had blamed several prominent figures from military officers to academics of having a role in the murder, and tried to tie it to Ergenekon, a gang concocted by FETÖ-linked prosecutors to imprison its critics.