[JURIST] A prominent human rights lawyer was fatally shot Saturday while delivering a press statement in Diyarbakir, Turkey. Tahir Elci was an influential figure [Al Jazeera report] in the largely Kurdish city of Diyarbakir, and he was the head of the Diyarbakir Bar Association [official website]. Elci was pronounced dead at a hospital shortly after the shooting. Elci claimed he had received death threats in recent weeks via his Twitter account. Last month, Turkish authorities arrested Elci for his public statement that the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) [BBC backgrounder] is not a terrorist organization. The PKK, a separatist group officially launched in 1984, is considered a terrorist group by the government of Turkey, the US and the EU. Two police officers and a journalist [Huffington Post report] also suffered injuries during the shooting. The conflict between the government and the PKK [Independent report] has increased in recent months, after a two-year ceasefire. Following Elci’s death, government officials have suggested that Elci was killed during a gun fight between the Turkish police and the outlawed PKK. The Diyarbakir Bar Association claim that Elci was targeted in a planned attack.
In an interview for CNN Turk, Elci stated [MEE report] that even if the PKK’s actions sometimes are of a terrorist nature, it has widespread support. As a result of this televised statement, Elci was detained [JURIST report] in October for the offense of spreading terrorist propaganda. He was released later that day, but Elci was not permitted to leave the country and was required to issue regular reports to Turkish police. In September, advocacy group Human Rights Watch accused Turkish police of “disturbing abuse” [JURIST report] for their actions towards detainees in the renewed conflict with the PKK. In March 2014 the European Court of Human Rights condemned Turkey for violating the rights of Abdullah Ocalan [JURIST report], the jailed founder of the PKK. Ocalan, arrested for “leading a gang of armed terrorists responsible for attacks resulting in the death of thousands of people,” complained of unfair judicial treatment and has been campaigning for the legitimacy of the PKK beginning with his incarceration in 1999.