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Blow to impunity anticipated in editor's murder trial in Turkey

(RSF/IFEX) - 29 August 2012 - Reporters Without Borders hails the progress that has been made in the investigation into local newspaper owner Cihan Hayirsevener's 2009 murder in Bandirma, a city southwest of Istanbul, and hopes that the trial of his alleged killers will be completed successfully, despite some foot-dragging and negligence. A similar determination is needed in the many other cases of attacks and physical violence against journalists in Turkey, most of which go unpunished.

A fifth hearing was held before an Istanbul court yesterday in the trial of all those accused of playing a role in the death of Hayirsevener, the Güney Marmara'da Yasam newspaper's founder and editor, who was gunned down in broad daylight on 18 December 2009.

"Despite the Turkish judicial system's usual slowness, the handling of this case is encouraging," Reporters Without Borders said. "Serious investigations into violence against journalists are extremely rare and must be saluted. A great deal of hope is being pinned on the ability of these judges to render justice to Hayirsevener's family and colleagues, and to send a signal to the hundreds of journalists who are grappling with powerful local interests or who hesitate to investigate corruption for fear of reprisals."

The link between Hayirsevener's murder and his work has been clearly demonstrated by the prosecution and by the fact that the judicial investigation into his murder was merged in May 2011 with an investigation into alleged corruption involving the Bandirma city authorities and influential local businessmen.

All the evidence and statements gathered by Reporters Without Borders during its own investigation in Bandirma three weeks after the murder point in the same direction, that Hayirsevener was killed because of his opinionated coverage of a case that was extremely embarrassing for certain local figures.

After a great deal of prevarication, the judges finally attributed the killing to "organized crime," contrary to the claims of the confessed gunman, Serkan Erakkus, that he shot Hayirsevener after an argument. Several witnesses told the court, and Reporters Without Borders, that they saw Erakkus hanging around the offices of Güney Marmara'da Yasam and Marmara TV several days before the murder.

During the penultimate hearing, on 22 May, a protected eyewitness who is not being named formally identified Erakkus as the gunman and gave a detailed description of the attack. He said Hayirsevener was knocked out and then repeatedly shot in the legs at close range.

Another witness, Seçil Kip, who was close to the family of the alleged mastermind, local businessman Ihsan Kuruoglu, retracted her initial statement that she saw the murder weapon before the murder.

A total of 18 people are being tried in connection with the murder and the related financial irregularities but only three are in preventive detention - alleged gunman Erakkus, alleged mastermind Kuruoglu, and Kerem Yilmaz, Kuruoglu's chauffeur, who is accused of complicity.

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