It is with great sadness that the Bar Human Rights Committee of England and Wales (BHRC) and the Democratic Progress Institute (DPI) note the fatal shooting of Tahir Elçi, President of the Diyarbakir Bar Association, in southeast Turkey on Saturday 28th November 2015.
Mr Elçi was a fearless human rights defender and consistently principled advocate for minorities across Turkey, as well as for the victims of a wide range of human rights abuses. A victim of torture himself, Mr Elçi was instrumental in bringing cases of torture, detention and disappearances against Turkey before the domestic courts as well as the European Court of Human Rights. He was well known to the BHRC and DPI, as he was to Bar Associations across Europe, as an authoritative and calm voice in the field of human rights in Turkey.
Last month, he was subject to investigation and arrested for comments he made during a television debate in which he said that the PKK (the Kurdistan Workers’ Party) was not a terrorist organisation but an armed political movement with a broad support base that had also committed some terrorist acts. Mr Elçi was subject to numerous death threats after the debate. His comments led to indictment on charges of “spreading terrorist propaganda” for which he was due to be prosecuted next year. As freedom of speech comes under increasing attack in Turkey, Mr Elçi’s tireless work as a human rights defender and, a lawyer and a proponent of a peaceful resolution of the conflict in Turkey was courageous and crucial.
There now must be an effective investigation by the Turkish authorities leading to the prompt prosecution of those responsible for his murder, the circumstances of which remain unclear.