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Court acquits Turkish police of killing human rights lawyer

Wednesday, 12 June, 2024 , 18:14

Diyarbakir, Turkey, June 12, 2024 (AFP) — A Turkish court on Wednesday acquitted three police officers nine years after the killing of a prominent rights lawyer in the Kurdish majority city of Diyarbakir.

Tahir Elci, a prominent campaigner for Kurdish rights, was shot dead on a city street on November 28, 2015, during a gunfight between outlawed Kurdish militants and police.

Elci, who was head of the Diyarbakir bar association, was cut down as he appealed for calm in the aftermath of the killing of two police officers by the PKK in a nearby street.

The court ordered that three police officers, who appeared before the court by video link, be acquitted because of lack of evidence after a lengthy trial. They stood accused of "causing death by foreseeable negligence" and faced up to six years in prison.

Amnesty International blasted the verdict as a "huge blow" to Elci's family and the wider human rights community in Turkey.

"The failure of the authorities to hold those responsible for his killing to account is a thorn in the heart of his loved ones and a stain on the justice system in Turkey," Amnesty's deputy regional director for Europe Dinushika Dissanayake said in a statement.

Lawyers for Elci's family had denounced multiple failures in the investigation as well as the destruction of evidence and successive changes of prosecutor in charge of the case.

The long-awaited trial opened in 2020, five years after the killing, after rights advocates including Human Rights Watch had criticised "extreme delays" in the case.

Elci's death came after the collapse of a ceasefire between the Turkish state and the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which is blacklisted as a terrorist group by Ankara and its Western allies.

In 2019, investigators from the London-based research agency Forensic Architecture published an in-depth report into the shooting, suggesting that security forces could have killed him.