Human Rights

Impunity in journalist murders discussed at MLSA’s “Unsolved” panel

The second “Unsolved Murders: Fight Against Impunity For Journalist Murders” panel organized by MLSA was held at Hrant Dink Foundation’s Anarad Hığutyun building on November 15, 2019.  This panel functioned as an extended follow-up to last year’s panel that was organized in September 2018 with the same name.

Alaz Erdost, publisher İlhan Erdost’s daughter, Özgür Gündem reporter Hafız Akdemir’s nephew Veysi Polat and Veran Matić – Chairman of the Commission for Investigating Murders of Journalists in Serbia and Slavko Curuvija’s colleague shared their experiences regarding unsolved journalist murders moderated by human rights defender and lawyer Eren Keskin.

Coming together with a supra-ideological demand for justice

Matthew Caruana Galizia, son of Maltese investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia murdered in 2017, started as the first speaker saying “I have two duties since my mother was a victim of murder two years ago: First one is to find the perpetrators of the murder and focus on Paradise Paper which she was investigating before being murdered.  My second duty is to prevent these types of murders not only as a family member of my mother but also as a family member of humanity. The method to prevent these murders is to stop the potential reasons causing them.

Özge Mumcu, daughter of investigative journalist Uğur Mumcu we lost in 1993, talked about the legal process after Mumcu murder adding “The state is committing these murders so they can only be resolved if the state wants to.” Drawing attention to the similarities between the cases of Daphne Caruana Galizia and her father, Özge Mumcu said “Trials and subjects journalists investigate stay incomplete when they are murdered. They subjects must be completed and making effort to complete them must continue.”

We live in a land stained with genocide

One of Turkey’s leading human rights defenders Eren Keskin moderated the panel. Before panelists talk, she said “We should always remember that we live in a geography of genocides. The state structure created by genocides still exists. We cannot consider unsolved murders separate from Teşkilat-ı Mahsusa (an Ottoman imperial government special forces unit) tradition. We should discuss unsolved murders and these disappearances with this approach. The system introduced to us as evolution and break-off is the continuation of İttihatçı (organization related to Teşkilat-ı Mahsusa) system.  

Alaz Erdost, daughter of İlhan Erdost who is a publisher and a special person for human rights defenders,  said “I am the youngest daughter of İlhan Erdost who was beaten to death in a military vehicle in front of his brother in Mamak Prison on 07 November 1980. I wish I could tell you about my father but I cannot because I do not have any memory with him. I do not remember how he smelled. I only remember his voice thanks to folk songs he recorded with my mother. Let me share my father’s story with you today.”

A soldier’s impulsive action caused the death, they said 

Talking about her experience regarding legal process of father’s murder, Erdost added that the most important unlawfulness was ‘the cause of death is heart attack’ in the forensic report. Erdost mentioned another unlawfulness saying the military prosecutor responsible for the trial was known for his right-wing militant views and specifically assigned there on that day. She added “I am sharing the small details with you because there were military doctors who signed the report stating that the cause of death is not heart attack but a buttstroke to his head. That is how a case is filed but later it was claimed that he died because of a soldier’s impulsive action.”

“We know the four people who killed İlhan Erdost. It was still daylight when they started beating him. The four people faced the court but there is also a military officer giving the order. He was given a 6-month sentence but never got imprisoned.” said Erdost and also drew attention to something one of the soldiers said at the end of the hearing. The soldier could not make an informative statement and apologized for not being able to tell the entire story. He said this was because he could not defend himself against his superiors and added “there is chain of command in the military and things can be done with order only. Erdost said this sentence was not included in the hearing minutes.

The reason for the statue of limitation is ‘neglect’ of victims

Alaz Erdost said that Article 15 added to Constitution of 1981 is the tipping point in terms of unlawfulness. This article prevents officials that were involved in human rights violations during and after the coup to stand trial and held accountable. 

Reminding that Article 15 has been removed after the referendum in 2002, Erdost said that “My family and I did not think it was genuine but law is the only way for us to fight against impunity. We made an official complaint for the forces to be judged. They were not judged because of the statue of limitation. The statue of limitation is 30 years for my father’s trial. Therefore at the time when Article 15 is removed, it is not possible to make a complaint for anyone murdered in 1980. 

Erdost said “We were informed that Article 15 did not affect any legal procedure back then and victims’ neglect is the reason for the statute of limitations of trials” and added “The main reason is that victims neglected the case for 30 years. I am not sure whether our state really knows how to fight against impunity after such accusations. We applied to European Court of Human Rights and waiting for the final decision. We believe it will be precedent for the people tortured to death in 1980. 

The police buried the body without informing the family

Veysi Polat started his speech stating that he is nephew of Özgür Gündem reporter Hafız Akdemir who was massacred in Sur, Diyarbakır on 08 June 1992 and is the only witness of this event.  

Polat said he was going to the office with Akdemir and heard the click of a gun, turned around and a shot was fired. Polat told about Akdemir being imprisoned at the age of 19 because of his opposing views and was released on probation in April 1991. Akdemir preferred to work for Özgür Gündem on purpose after being released because it was the only newspaper reporting about burned down villages and the torturings. He added he used to help his uncle and go to the office with him. 

Polat said that his family was going to hold a funeral one day after his uncle’s death but the process took longer and the police took the body away from morgue without informing the family. 

“We fell in the hole dug for the body”

“In the morning the police took away the body and buried it in Mardinkapı Cemetery without informing anyone. We objected to this and stated that we wanted to bury the body in Lice. Our demand was accepted after 3 days and we took the body to our village.”

An officer stopped our vehicle when we arrived at our village and made us get off the vehicle. The officers beat us and said ‘You are all Armenians’ using this as an insult. My uncle’s body was full of blood and we were not even allowed in the mosque to clean the body. They beat us and we fell in the hole dug for the body.

 “Was there no other newspaper left to work for?” 

Veysi Polat said he does not use his real name because of being the only witness. He is still reporting news as a journalist and does not use his real name to prevent the murderer from carrying out his incomplete work. He carried his uncle to the car on that day and the police officers in the car said “no other newspaper left to work for?” in an accusing way. Polat said his political views were not sufficient to process this but he was affected by this sentence.

He also added that “Under normal circumstances the police officers collect evidence and try to find a witness but no one tried to reach me for 27 years. There is someone committing these murders including Hafız Akdemir’s. There was red notice for him and he was caught in Vienna and brought to Turkey in 2008. We found out about it on the news and he was sentenced to 10 years. Killing a DEP parliament member in broad daylight in Batman, this person is responsible for killing 7 people in total and was released after being imprisoned for 9.5 years. “

It is not important how many years the murderers get as long as the power behind them is not known. For example, previous Governor of Batman who served in that period has confessions regarding purchasing guns and organizing trainings through hidden fund.

We do not believe in the rights and legal justice in this country anymore. We will keep fighting until the power behind these murders is revealed. We continue our fight through legal ways. Hafız has a photograph in every office and we are proud of it. He is more than an uncle to me.

Efforts to solve unsolved journalist murders in Serbia

Serbian journalist Veran Matić was the last person talking about the work of the commission founded to investigate the journalist murders with the support of the Serbian Government. 

A journalist for 30 years and executive director of Channel B92, Matić said under Milosević regime he witnessed shutdown of the Channel B92 for 4 times, got arrested, tortured and experienced anything a journalist can experience except for an assassination. He added that he had been under legal protection for 6 years and used to meet his colleagues once a year until 2013 to remember different journalists’ murders and feeling angry because nothing was being done. He always thought that founding such commission was necessary.    

He said that previous president Boris Tadić and his successor Tomislav Nikolić were open to the idea of founding a commission investigating journalists murders and there are 4 journalists and 3 police and intelligence service officers in the commission. He stated that they try their best to prevent the evident from being destroyed and a special group is assigned for every murder case.

“Organizations to provide security for alive journalists needed” 

Matić stated that organisations must be founded to secure the journalists being exposed to pressure and violence because of their activities and underlined that extra effort must be made to prevent such murders in advance. 

He also emphasized that such commissions must be directly related to the state and said it is important for his commission to be related to the state. He said Europe also must do something to prevent similar murders adding that investigative journalists in Europe are under pressure more than ever. 

There is continuity in our state mechanism 

The panel continued with questions after panelists are finished. Moderator Eren Keskin stated that the mentality of ruling power has been the same since 90’s and added that “1990’s are very close to present. As you know many journalists and intellectuals were massacred and lists were published. However, people representing the worst side of the secret state such as Mehmet Ağar and Tansu Çiller can be seen in rallies of the ruling party. This mentality is still in power. Because the thinking way of our state is the same, it is not possible for us adopt the commission system in Serbia. The ongoing mentality of our state structure does not allow us to found such commissions.”