Court says lack of evidence reason for acquittal of police officers in lawyer’s murder trial

A Turkish court that last month acquitted three police officers accused of killing a prominent human rights lawyer has said in its reasoned decision that the acquittals were due to a lack of sufficient evidence and “uncertainty” about the person who fired the fatal shot, Turkish Minute reported on Wednesday, citing the Media and Law Studies Association (MLSA).

Tahir Elçi, the former president of the Diyarbakır Bar Association, was shot in the head during a press conference on November 28, 2015 while calling for peace, in front of the historic Four-Legged Minaret in Diyarbakır’s Sur district. A clash between Turkish police and members of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) had erupted at the scene, and Elçi was caught in the crossfire.

On June 12 the Diyarbakır 10th High Criminal Court acquitted police officers Sinan Tabur, Fuat Tan and Mesut Sevgi, who were on trial for “causing death by gross negligence,” sparking protests from lawyers and human rights activists who argued that justice had not been served.

The court issued its reasoned decision on Wednesday, explaining that it ruled to acquit the police officers due to a lack of sufficient evidence proving their guilt since there was uncertainty about who fired the shot that killed Elçi.

The court said there was no concrete evidence such as camera footage or witness statements regarding the moment of Elçi’s death, adding that a conviction cannot be accomplished by interpreting suspicious events and allegations against the suspects.

Lawyer Masum Batı, president of the Tahir Elçi Foundation, found the court’s emphasis on uncertainty regarding the person who fired the fatal shot in the reasoned decision insincere, saying it was the court itself that failed to shed light on the suspicious aspects of the murder.

“The 27-page judgment by the court has simply listed the actions taken without explanation. It has not discussed the evidence or explained how it arrived at its conclusion. An unjustified decision,” Batı said.

Lawyers for the Elçi family had previously criticized the handling of the case, saying their requests to uncover the truth were dismissed and alleging that evidence was mishandled or destroyed. Türkan Elçi, the widow of Tahir Elçi, said the bullet that killed her husband was never found and that “key pieces of evidence, including 40 bullet casings, were lost or destroyed.”

A 2019 report by Forensic Architecture concluded  that  Elçi was most likely killed by one of three police officers present at the scene. It was only after their investigation that an indictment in which three police officers faced charges of causing death by culpable negligence was accepted in March 2020.

However, this evidence was reportedly not given due consideration during the trial.

The court’s decision to acquit the police officers has deepened concerns about impunity and the rule of law in Turkey, especially in cases involving state officials and Kurdish activists.

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