Turkey: Killing of Tahir Elci demands a thorough and transparent investigation

Turkey: Killing of Tahir Elci demands a thorough and transparent investigation - Protection

A police officer patrols a street near El Rizk mosque in Hasankeyf.

ARTICLE 19 calls for a prompt, thorough and impartial investigation into the killing of prominent human rights lawyer Tahir Elci on 28 November in Diyarbakir, South-East Turkey.

Elci was killed when multiple shots were fired between plain-clothed police and armed assailants, following a press conference he was holding on astreet in central Diyarbakir: it remains unclear whether Elci was caught up by accident in the gun fire or he was the main target of the attack. The authorities should ensure transparency by making the results of the investigation available to the public.

“The death of such a prominent human rights defender is devastating,” said David Diaz-Jogeix, Director of Programmes at ARTICLE 19; “We call on the Turkish government to take further steps are taken to ensure that the perpetrators are identified and held accountable.”;

Elci, who was the President of the Bar Association in Diyarbakir, was killed in broad daylight immediately after calling for peace at the press conference. Tahir Elci was a prominent and respected lawyer, who was well known for his tireless defence of human rights; his death represents a huge loss for the human rights community in Turkey and internationally.

Prime Minister Davutoglu initiated an investigation into the attack, in which two police officers also died. He stated that it was still unclear whether Elci was targeted or was simply caught in cross-fire between police and the attackers, who he accused of being fighters from the armed group, the PKK. He added that the PKK were to blame for the deaths, even if indirectly, implicitly admitting the possibility that Elci was killed by gunshots fired by the police.

An official press release by Turkey’s Ministry of Interior stated that the investigators had been unable to carry out a complete forensic investigation of the crime scene, due to ongoing clashes in the area: this raises concerns that the results of the investigation will be flawed from the outset.

Prior to his death, Elci was subject to a criminal investigation, after he stated on live television on 15 October that the PKK is not a terrorist organisation, but rather an armed political movement with popular support. He also criticised the PKK for its use of violence and called for peace. Elci was charged with terrorist propaganda and reported that he received daily threats through social media and telephone calls since making these statements, which were highly controversial in Turkey.

ARTICLE 19 calls for a transparent, impartial, and effective investigation in the killing of Elci. 

ARTICLE 19 further condemns the judicial harassment of Elci, which created a hostile environment for the expression of controversial ideas. Individuals must be free to express opinions even if controversial or offensive, especially in the struggle to find solutions to complex social and political problems.