Lawyers in the murder trial of slain human rights lawyer Tahir Elçi have demanded that judges step down after they reversed a decision to call the Turkish former prime minister as a key witness.
Lawyers from the Diyarbakır Bar Association who intervened on the case called the reversal of the court board’s decision to hear ex-prime minister Ahmet Davutoğlu’s testimony “a disgraceful scandal” in a press statement.
The recent decision marks a new turning point in a six-year search for justice for a political assassination that has links to powerful actors in the Turkish state.
Elçi, a well-known human rights campaigner, was shot to death on 28 November 2015 while holding a press conference in central Diyarbakır (Amed) to criticise curfews imposed on predominantly Kurdish areas.
As Elçi called for an end to the violence that had flared up in the country that year, a shootout started between police and Kurdish militants, and Elçi was shot in the back of the head. International observers have noted the lack of an independent investigation, and the refusal to investigate police officers as suspects.
The campaigner’s killing came as conflict between Turkey and Kurdish militants flared after the collapse of a two-year peace process with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in 2015.
The resumption of the conflict came shortly after the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) stunned the country by winning 80 parliamentary seats in the elections in June 2015, resulting in the first hung parliament since the Justice and Development Party (AKP) gained power in 2002.
Turkish security forces conducted large-scale police and military operations accompanied by curfews in the mainly Kurdish southeast, killing dozens of locals, and Kurdish militants responded with an armed resistance. Large parts of the country had descended into armed conflict by the time snap elections were held in November 2015, and the AKP won a resounding victory.
The sequence of events led to accusations from some quarters that the AKP had encouraged the conflict to gain an advantage in the November vote.
Speculation mounted after the prime minister of the time, Ahmet Davutoğlu, split from the party in 2019 and later implied there had been foul play during the June–November 2019 period.
And, in September 2021, Davutoğlu publicly described Elçi’s murder as a political assassination. The lawyers in the murder case requested that Davutoğlu be heard in court as a witness.
In the hearing on 15 June, the court accepted this request. However, in an interim hearing on 19 September, the court reversed this decision without the knowledge of the intervening lawyers who had made the request.
Nahit Eren, the chair of the Diyarbakır Bar Association, drew attention to irregularities in the investigation of Elçi’s murder, noting that the crime scene investigation had been carried out three-and-a-half months after the assassination, and the trial started more than four years later.
By contrast, it took just nine days for the Turkish judiciary to prosecute Tahir Elçi for his statements on a live broadcast, which lawyers say made him a political target shortly before he was killed.
A lawsuit was filed against Elçi on terrorism charges after he stated on a live broadcast on October 2015 that the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) should not be considered a terrorist organisation but an armed political movement with significant social support.
The next hearing of the murder trial will be held on 23 November.