The trial of suspects in the case of the murder of Tahir Elçi, the former chair of the Diyarbakır Bar Association, has descended into a tragic comedy on Wednesday as a hard disk supposedly containing the most important piece of evidence was confirmed to be now ‘one hundred percent empty’, and it has also been alleged that a witness had been interrogated by two prosecutors within 24 hours, in one case without his lawyer present and by a prosecutor who was not even assigned to the case.
Gamze Yalçın, one of the lawyers representing the interests of the family of Tahir Elçi, raised the issue of a report prepared by TÜBİTAK, Turkey’s most prestigious scientific institutes, regarding the CCTV video footage that was assessed to be the most crucial evidence in the case.
Yalçın said that a report by TÜBİTAK recently confirmed that the hard disk supposedly containing the critical video footage evidence was now ‘one hundred percent empty’. Yalçın reminded the court that it was the prosecutor’s responsibility to guard the evidence and an inquiry needed to be now launched into the incident.
The judges responded to her appeal with a decision simply stating that the hard disk would be examined again.
Mehmet Emin Aktar, another lawyer also representing the interests of the family of Tahir Elçi, raised the issue of a letter sent by a witness, Deniz Ataş, to some bar associations, in which he claimed that he had been interrogated by two different prosecutors within 24 hours, and threatened by one of them.
Stating that one of the two prosecutors was a man called Kenan Karaca, who was not even officially assigned to the case, lawyer Aktar made a criminal complaint against him at the court. “The prosecutor Kenan Karaca has committed a crime by getting the testimony of the witness despite not being authorised,” Aktar said. “We have been informed of this by the letter we are now submitting to the court. This prosecutor committed a crime by exceeding his duties and we are now informing you about this.”
Meral Danış Beştaş, the parliamentary deputy chair of the People’s Democratic Party (HDP), brought up the allegations of the witness Ataş, this time in the Turkish parliament on Thursday, stating that Ataş had been forced by the prosecutor to implicate the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in Tahir Elçi’s murder.
“Ataş explained how Kenan Karaca had personally taken part in torture. He allegedly told Ataş: ‘If you don’t comply, if you don’t implicate the organisation, you will never get out of trouble. And do not dare say anything to the lawyers, you will never be able to escape it.’ This shows how there are attempts to obscure the evidence in the Tahir Elçi murder case.”
The conditions of Elçi’s murder and the aftermath
Tahir Elçi was murdered whilst making a public press statement in Turkey’s Kurdish-majority city of Diyarbakır on 28 November 2015 in front of the historical structure called the Four-Legged-Minaret.
Elçi had not long before been asked on a live show at CNN Türk by the host Ahmet Hakan on 15 October 2015 whether or not he thought the PKK was a terrorist organisation, and he had answered saying, “PKK is not a terrorist organisation. Although some of its actions can be defined as terror, PKK is an armed political movement. It is a political movement with political demands and with significant social support.”
He had been detained five days later and released after he had testified on condition of judicial control and restrictions imposed on overseas travel. He was killed just five weeks later.
As the criminal investigation was still in progress, mainstream media Hürriyet reported on 6 June 2015 that a witness named Deniz A. accused the PKK of Elçi’s murder and that he claimed that the murder was an act of provocation as PKK’s intention was to blame the police for the incident.
The witness Deniz A., who was later referred to with his full name Deniz Ataş, would state in a court hearing in July 2021 that he was offered release from prison by the prosecutor in exchange for a statement. He would say: “I’m not literate. I signed everything they put in front of me (…) They tortured me. They said I was to make a statement against Uğur and Mahsun to hold them responsible for the murder, or they would kill me. I was terrified and I made a statement.”
The three accused police officers in the Tahir Elçi murder case have not even been taken into custody during the course of the trial.
They are also only charged with the lesser offence of ‘causing death’ and the prosecutor is asking for a relatively short sentence of two to six years in prison.
Uğur Yalçın, the fourth suspect and allegedly a member of PKK, is charged with the murder of Tahir Elçi and the prosecutor in his case is requesting a prison term of 20 years. Yalçın is still at large.