A leading Kurdish lawyer was shot dead on Saturday in southeast Turkey after unknown gunmen opened fire on a gathering in the mainly Kurdish province of Diyarbakir.
Tahir Elci, head of the bar in southeastern Diyarbakir province and a campaigner for Kurdish rights, died of gunshot wounds to the head.
The unidentified assailants opened fire on Elci and 40 other activists as they were giving a press release in Diyarbakir’s Sur district.
A campaigner for Kurdish rights, Tahir Elci had been criticized for challenging Turkey’s official stance of calling the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) a terrorist organization.
Elci died of gunshots to the head, hospital sources confirmed.
After making comments about PKK on CNN Turk TV in October, Elci was detained. He was subsequently released and had been awaiting trial.
The killing took place while Tahir Elci was making a statement to the media. According to the state Anadolu news agency, it was Kurdish insurgents that opened fire, killing Elci, as well as a police officer, and injuring three other people, among them correspondents of the leading Turkish media organizations – the Anatolia and Dogan news agencies.
Tahir Elci studied law in Europe and took part in many high profile cases in the Turkish courts. The lawyer was among the founding members of many human rights and non-governmental organizations.
“The moment the statement ended, the crowd was sprayed with bullets,” Reuters cited Omer Tastan, a local official from the pro-Kurdish HDP party, as saying.
“A single bullet struck Elci in the head,” Tastan said, adding that 11 people were also wounded in the incident.
Dogan News Agency recorded a video of the incident, showing a group of gunmen hiding behind the minaret of a nearby mosque close to where Elci was making his statement. When he finished speaking, the group opened fire at the lawyer and people standing beside him.
“A person ran towards Tahir Elci, fired and then started to run away,” Dogan news agency’s reporter Felat Bozarslan recalls.
The PKK demands greater autonomy for Turkey’s Kurds and is classified as a terrorist organization in Turkey and the US.