Tahir Elçi was the chair of the Diyarbakır Bar Association when he was killed on November 28, 2015, during a press statement in front of the Sheikh Matar Mosque in Sur, Diyarbakır. He was also a member of the Human Rights Association, Advisory Board to the Union of Turkish Bar Associations (TBB) Human Rights Center, and Human Rights Foundation of Turkey (TİHV). The assailants of and the arm used for his murder are still unknown.
Tahir Elçi was born in Cizre district of Şırnak in 1966. He graduated from Dicle University Law Faculty. During his term as an executive director of the Diyarbakır Bar Association between the years 1998-2006, he trained at the Academy of European Law in Germany on international criminal law and criminal justice. He was a speaker at numerous national and international conferences.
During the ‘90s, he represented victims of extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances in detention, burning down of villages, and torture in detention, as well as conducting documentation of rights violations in Diyarbakır and its environs. He represented the families of Medeni Yıldırım, and the 12-year-old Nihat Kazanhan, who were killed by soldiers, in Lice and Cizre in Diyarbakir respectively. He had undertaken the legal cases of the killing of 38 people during March 1994 Turkish Armed Forces bombardment of Kuşkonar and Koçağılı villages of Şırnak and Roboski Massacre. He was instrumental in the ECHR lawsuit issuing one of its landmark decisions regarding the bombardment of the villages.
He was elected chair of the Diyarbakır Bar Association in November 2012. On November 14, 2015, he was detained for six days for having made the following statement on TV: “PKK is not a terrorist organization. Although some of its activities could qualify as terrorism, it is a political movement. It is a movement with a broad-based support, making political demands.” His case was referred to court for arrest. He was released by the Bakırköy Second Criminal Court of Peace. His indictment had requested a seven-and-a-half-year imprisonment for “making terrorist organization propaganda”. Elçi was banned from leaving the country.
A month and half after this incident, the Four-Legged Minaret in Sur district, a symbol of Diyarbakır, was damaged on November 25, 2015 during the armed clashes that had been going on since September 2015 between the law enforcement forces and YDG-H members. Tahir Elçi held a press conference in front of the minaret to draw attention to this damage on November 28. His statement read: “Suriçi neighborhood has a history dating back to nine thousand years. There are city walls, mosques, churches and other historical artefacts in this area. We do not want arms, conflict or [military] operations on this ancient site that housed countless civilizations, on the common ground of humanity. Wars, arms, conflict and operations shall steer away from here.” He was killed in an armed clash in the moments following this statement.
Although the former Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu publicly promised to conclude investigations as soon as possible, the procedures of collecting evidence were not respected, the guns of the police present on murder site were never subjected to a criminal investigation, and it was never determined whose gunshot killed Elçi. Public prosecutor of the investigation changed multiple times and no perpetrator or suspect had to testify over the course of four years.
Diyarbakır Bar Association requested a technical investigation from London-based Forensic Architecture in order to shed light on the details of Elçi’s murder and determine the assailants. Their report concluded that either of the three police officers present on site could have shot Elçi. These three officers were included as “witnesses” in the ongoing investigation file.
Suspects were identified 4 years after the murder. Public prosecuter took statements from three police officers on active duty. The testimony of the suspects was examined by the prosecutor on 9 and 10 January 2020.
In the indictment sent to the court on March 26, 2020, three police officers were asked to be sentenced to 2 to 6 years in prison for “causing death by deliberate negligence”. The prosecutor also added Uğur Yakışır, who was accused of killing two police officers and entered the street by shooting, as a defendant in the file and asked for three aggravated life sentences and a prison sentence of up to 45 years.
The first hearing of the trial took place on October 21, 2020 at Diyarbakır 10th High Criminal Court. In the 300-seat hall, only 84 people were allowed in. While a limited number of journalists were taken, shielded policemen entered the hall. The defendants attended the hearing with video conference (SEGBİS) and their images were unclear. It was understood that there were no regent judges who should accompany the defendants. The court rejected the request of the complainant’s attorneys for a regent judge to be present. Tahir Elçi’s wife Türkan Elçi’s request to speak was also rejected.
The court postponed the hearing to March 3, 2021, to be decided by the Diyarbakır 11th High Criminal Court, to evaluate the refusal of the judge.