Erhan Tuncel was one of the key names suspected of planning the murder of Turkish Armenian journalist Hrant Dink. DHA photo
A Turkish court released on March 7 a former informant accused of instigating the 2007 murder of Armenian Turkish journalist
The release of Erhan Tuncel was made possible by a change in the country’s anti-terrorism laws that reduced the maximum pre-trial detention period from 10 years to five years. The law was amended as part of a 22-article democratization package that was published in the Official Gazette after being approved by President Abdullah Gül.
Tuncel was released on the evening of March 6, daily Hürriyet reported, citing his lawyer, Erdoğan Soruklu.
Other suspects were also expected to be released from prison during the day after Justice Minister Bekir Bozdağ said March 7 that the measure could pave the way for the release of at least 150 defendants, including hundreds of military officers who were given long jail terms for allegedly plotting to overthrow the Turkish government.
The ruling came a day after the country’s top court ruled that the legal rights of former army chief İlker Başbuğ, who was convicted in an alleged coup plot, were violated due to his long pre-trial imprisonment.
The Constitutional Court ruled in favor of a complaint filed by Başbuğ, who was sentenced to life imprisonment last year in the Ergenekon coup trial, on the grounds that his legal rights were violated.
Başbuğ’s claim that he was unlawfully deprived of freedom was rejected by a local court without being “effectively examined and the detailed reasoning regarding his conviction was not issued,” the Constitutional Court said, adding that, for that reason, his conviction could not be the subject of any case at the Supreme Court of Appeals.
The amendments on March 6 also included the abolition of the notorious specially authorized courts (ÖYM). The Constitutional Court had sent its decision in the Başbuğ case to the ÖYM that heard the initial case, but because it no longer exists, the Istanbul 20th High Criminal Court will evaluate Başbuğ’s situation and decide whether to release him.
Turkey has long been criticized for its anti-terrorism laws, whose broad wording has led to the jailing of hundreds, including journalists, politicians and academics.
Tuncel, arrested last September, is currently being retried in the high-profile killing of Dink in Turkey’s largest city after initially being acquitted of all charges in 2012.
Muammer Akkaş, the original prosecutor in charge of the trial, which resumed on Sept. 17, 2013, was dismissed as part of a wave of purges within the judiciary.
Dink was shot to death by Ogün Samast on a busy street outside the offices of his bilingual, Turkish-Armenian Agos newspaper in Istanbul on Jan. 19, 2007.
Samast was sentenced to over 22 years in jail for the murder, but lawyers representing the Dink family have repeatedly expressed their dismay over the way the investigations and the trial have been conducted.
His assassination sent shockwaves through Turkey and grew into a wider scandal after it emerged that the security forces knew of a plot to kill Dink, but failed to act.
Backing up widespread accusations of a state conspiracy, Tuncel claimed in December 2013 that he had informed the police of the plan, but that his warnings went unheeded.