The Turkish government should fully investigate the murder of the influential and outspoken Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink, Human Rights Watch said today. Dink, a commentator and critic of Turkey’s human rights record and the slow progress of its reform efforts, was the editor of Agos (Furrow), a bilingual Turkish- and Armenian-language newspaper.

Dink was best known for his writing and public statements about the massacres of Armenians in southern Anatolia at the end of the Ottoman Empire, which remains one of the most controversial and emotionally charged issues in Turkey today. Dink had faced prosecution for his views and had reportedly also received death threats.

“We are deeply saddened by Hrant Dink’s murder,” said Holly Cartner, Europe and Central Asia director for Human Rights Watch. “Dink’s killing robs Turkey of an important voice of conscience on the need for Turkey to come to terms with its past.”

Dink had been prosecuted three times for his statements under article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code for “insulting Turkishness.” Most recently, in July 2006, the Supreme Court upheld a six-month prison sentence against Dink under article 301 for an editorial concerning the 1915 massacres of Armenians in Anatolia. The sentence was suspended, but other speech-related charges were still pending against him at the time of his death.

Turkey continues to prosecute and convict individuals who peacefully exercise their right to free expression. In 2006 alone, more than 50 individuals were indicted for statements or speeches that questioned state policy on controversial topics such as religion, ethnicity, and the role of the army. Human Rights Watch has repeatedly called for the repeal of article 301, as well as other legislation that is used to restrict free expression in Turkey.

These repeated prosecutions, as well as growing political tensions in Turkey in the lead-up to 2007 presidential and parliamentary elections, have created an environment of intolerance and hostility, which increases the risk that such violent attacks will occur.

Human Rights Watch called on the Turkish government to conduct a thorough investigation into the murder of Hrant Dink and to hold accountable those involved in the murder. Human Rights Watch also again called on the Turkish government to abolish article 301 and to drop all charges against journalists, writers, and editors like Dink who face prosecution for their peaceful expression.