Turkish court sentences Dink assassin to 23 years

ISTANBUL Mon Jul 25, 2011 10:40am EDT

A portrait of Turkish Armenian newspaper editor Hrant Dink is seen during a demonstration to mark the fourth anniversary of his death, outside the office of the Agos newspaper in Istanbul, January 19, 2011. REUTERS/Osman Orsal

A portrait of Turkish Armenian newspaper editor Hrant Dink is seen during a demonstration to mark the fourth anniversary of his death, outside the office of the Agos newspaper in Istanbul, January 19, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Osman Orsal

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ISTANBUL (Reuters) - An Istanbul court sentenced on Monday the assassin of Armenian journalist Hrant Dink to nearly 23 years in prison.

Editor of bilingual Turkish-Armenian weekly Agos and Turkey's best known Armenian voice abroad, Dink was shot in broad daylight as he left his Istanbul office in January 2007.

His killer Ogun Samast was 17 and unemployed when the killing took place. He was sentenced by a juvenile court to 22 years and 10 months.

Dink had angered nationalists with articles referring to a Turkish "genocide" of Christian Armenians in 1915.

Another court is hearing the cases against two other main suspects in the conspiracy and a handful of others accused of being linked to the plot.

Reacting to Samast's sentencing, Eyten Mahcupyan, a Turkish Armenian columnist who took over editorship of Agos after Dink's death, praised the court for opting for a severe jail term.

"The court was courageous enough to go with the evidence, and not go down an ideological path in terms of nationalism," Mahcupyan, who is now a columnist for pro-government Zaman newspaper, told Reuters.

He said it would set an example to another court hearing the Dink conspiracy cases, a point echoed by a lawyer for Dink's family.

"Ogun Samast and other suspects were not expecting this sentence. This could ruin their hope of being freed soon," lawyer Fethiye Cetin told Reuters. "This is very important to deter this sort of crime."

Dink was frequently criticized by Turkish nationalists, including top politicians and prosecutors, for saying the mass killing of Armenians by Ottoman Turks during World War One was genocide.

Nationalists see such comments as a threat to national unity in predominantly Muslim Turkey.

The government says both Christian Armenians and Muslim Turks died in large numbers as the Ottoman Empire collapsed.

CASE MONITORED BY EU

Two years before he was killed, Dink received a suspended six-month jail term for "insulting Turkey's identity" in an article.

Last year, the European Court of Human Rights ordered Turkish authorities to pay 100,000 euros to Dink's family in compensation, saying authorities had failed to adequately protect Dink even though they knew ultra-nationalists were plotting to kill him.

The Dink case was closely followed by the European Union as it underlined concerns over EU-candidate Turkey's human rights record and democratic credentials.

Investigations subsequently suggested that Dink's killing and other incidents targeting minorities were part of a bigger plot to undermine Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan's government. Erdogan's AK Party sprang from a banned Islamist party that is loathed by secular nationalists.

(Reporting by Simon Cameron-Moore; Editing by Roger Atwood)

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