Findings of Interior Ministry’s investigation into killing of Kurdish lawyer surface: report

The findings of an investigation conducted by inspectors from Turkey’s Interior Ministry into the killing of former Diyarbakır Bar Association chairman and human rights activist Tahir Elçi in 2015, which were compiled in a report in 2017, appeared in the case file of the murder trial, Turkish Minute reported, citing Deutsche Welle’s Turkish service (DW Türkçe).

Elçi was killed in November 2015 while giving a speech in the southeastern province of Diyarbakır during a clash between the Turkish police and members of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

Calling for a peace rally on what turned out to be the day of his death in Sur’s historic district, Elçi said he wanted no violence, war, destruction or armed operations in the area. Turkey had blockaded Sur at the time as part of mass operations against the PKK, with Diyarbakır’s historic “four-legged minaret” damaged during the clashes. Elçi was shot to death in front of the minaret, where he was delivering his call for peace.

There have been many obstacles to conducting an effective investigation into Elçi’s killing that included the authorities’ failure to collect evidence at the scene and only collecting minimal evidence two days later, which resulted in a lack of potentially critical evidence.

Turkish prosecutors said three police officers and an alleged member of the PKK at the scene were suspects in the murder.

According to Forensic Architecture, a London-based multidisciplinary research group, charging the PKK member with murder was not realistic.

Forensic Architecture said in its study that one of the police officers at the scene most likely shot Elçi because he had a clear line of fire, while two other were identified as having possibly shot him.

Police failed to locate the bullet that killed the Kurdish lawyer with the prosecutor’s decision at the outset not to interview the police officers who had shot in Elçi’s direction as possible suspects but rather as witnesses. The prosecutor investigating the death was replaced several times, causing delays in the process.

According to DW Türkçe, a striking piece of information at the beginning of the 56-page report by the Interior Ministry was that during the incident, one of the accused police officers, Fuat T., was headed in the opposite direction, not towards the fleeing PKK members.

The report also said two PKK members were chased by police officers to the scene on the day Elçi was killed.

Investigators stated in the report that a member of the PKK was wiretapped on suspicion that he might be the perpetrator of an attack on a police vehicle, which led the police to the scene of Elçi’s murder. After the PKK member under surveillance and a comrade shot at the police, the two were chased down to Elçi’s press conference.

Three police officers — Mesut S., Fuat T. and Sinan T. — are charged in the indictment with “causing death by culpable negligence,” which carries a prison sentence of two to six years.

On the other hand Uğur Yakışır, an alleged member of the PKK, is charged with “murdering Tahir Elçi and two police officers [who died on the same day], attempting to destroy the unity of the state and possession of a firearm.” Prosecutors demand multiple life sentences and an additional 45 years in prison for Yakışır. The trial will continue on June 15, 2022.

Elçi received death threats in 2015 after stating that “the PKK is not a terrorist group. While some of its actions may be called that, it’s an armed political movement with significant support” during a live TV show on CNN Türk hosted by pro-government columnist Ahmet Hakan.

Elçi was briefly detained in November 2015 over remarks that sparked a wave of death threats against him. He was subsequently released pending trial and faced up to seven-and-a-half years in prison.

Two days after Elçi’s murder, the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) and the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) submitted a request to the Turkish parliament to set up a commission of inquiry into the murder.

However, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its nationalist ally, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), killed the application thanks to their majority in parliament.

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