Diyarbakir Bar Association President Tahir Elci, a prominent lawyer and human rights defender was shot dead with a single bullet to his head earlier today, on November 28, 2015.
A gun battle broke out between police and unidentified individuals as Tahir Elci was making a statement calling for an end to the ongoing state violence against the Kurdish towns.
Tahir Elci made statements on a TV program on October 14, 2015 declaring that PKK is not a terrorist organization, but an armed political organization that has great public support. A week later he was detained and charged for spreading ‘terrorist’ propaganda, a crime that is punishable with seven-and-a-half year prison sentence. While being deposed at the Prosecutor’s Office, Tahir Elci had stated that he stood behind his statements about the PKK and that this was within his right to freedom of speech. He also reminded that the Turkish government through its high-ranked bureaucrats was involved in a peace and negotiation process for 3 years with Abdullah Ocalan, the leader of the same organization (PKK). The negotiations had resulted in the Dolmabahce Agreement, a reconciliation declaration of ten points, which was shared with the public on February 28, 2015 with members of pro-Kurdish, People’s Democratic Party (HDP) and three cabinet ministers present.
Tahir Elci was released pending his trial but was placed under judicial supervision.
Practicing law in Diyarbakir since 1992, Tahir Elci was one of the cofounders of the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey (TIHV) and a member of the Human Rights Association (IHD). He relentlessly represented victims and their families against the Turkish state in cases of political murders, extrajudicial killings, and burning down of villages. On December 28, 2011, Turkish warplanes had bombed and killed 34 people in Roboski, of whom 17 were children. Tahir Elci was one of the lawyers representing the Roboski victims’ families.
After his statements on PKK, Tahir Elci had received hundreds of death threats through phone calls and social media. Eren Keskin, a prominent human rights lawyer and ex-chairperson of the Istanbul Branch of Human Rights Association (IHD) said in an interview that this is an attack on the Kurdish people and a planned assassination of the counter-guerrilla arm of the Turkish state. Thousands of people in Istanbul and Diyarbakir took to the streets in protest and was attacked by police and tear gassed.
The assassination of Tahir Elci came only a few days after the arrest of two journalists, Can Dundar, the editor-in-chief and Erdem Gul, the Ankara correspondent of Cumhuriyet newspaper. In an effort to unravel the ties between ISIS and the Turkish government, the newspaper had reported about trucks belonging to the Turkish National Intelligence Organization that were carrying arms to Syria. There is an incredible amount of pressure on journalists, activists, students, lawyers and members of the political opposition in Turkey. It is impossible to rule out the murder of Tahir Elci as an assassination both because of the method and the political circumstances surrounding the killing. Many Kurdish intellectuals and activists were murdered this way during the 1990s, and the Armenian journalist Hrant Dink was assassinated similarly because of his political views in 2007.
We, as members of the National Lawyers Guild condemn the murder of our colleague Tahir Elci. We offer our condolences to his family, his colleagues and all human right activists in Turkey. We urge officials to start an independent investigation and hold those accountable who are responsible for the death of Tahir Elci. We will continue to follow the human rights violations in Turkey and show our solidarity with our colleagues in Turkey.