Officer acquitted in killing of Kurdish man in southeastern Turkey

A penal court in Turkey’s southeastern Diyarbakır province has acquitted a police officer on charges of second-degree murder in the killing of a Kurdish university student in 2017, Mezopotamya agency reported on Tuesday.

Officer Y.Ş. had been caught on camera shooting at 23-year-old Kemal Kurkut as he went through a police checkpoint to attend celebrations of Newroz, the Kurdish New Year celebration held on the spring equinox.

The court cited the inability of identifying the murder weapon and the involvement of tens of officers in firing shots during the incident, Kurkut’s lawyer said.

“The suspect clearly aimed his gun at Kemal and fired. He does not deny this,” Kurkut family’s lawyer Sidar Avşar told Mezopotamya.

The 13 bullet casings that could be retrieved all belonged to a police officer identified as O.M., Avşar said.

“We were told there were no other casings. So we know (somebody) tampered with evidence,” the lawyer said.

Court documents indicate more than 50 officers firing shots in the area at the time.

“The court ruled to acquit because the murder weapon could not be identified. The goal here is impunity, and they have taken a step towards that goal,” the lawyer continued. “The court filed charges against O.M. but they will acquit him as they did Y.Ş.”

Kurkut was killed in front of cameras, and the incident was documented in the autopsy and police cameras, another lawyer of the family Serdar Çelebi said.

“We appealed for an effective investigation and prosecution, but we were repeatedly ignored.  In the end the court ruled to acquit like nothing happened,” the lawyer added.

The family’s lawyers took more than an hour to make their case in the 12th hearing of the case, but the defendant’s “minute-long” account “won him an acquittal,” the victim’s brother Cihan Kurkut told Mezopotamya.

“There have been thousands of murders,” another brother of the victim Ercan Kurkut said. “But none were this clear.”

The Diyarbakır Governorate had issued a statement at the time, saying Kurkut had been shot on suspicion of wearing a suicide vest.

Photojournalist Abdurrahman Gök had published a series of photographs he took showing the young man approaching a police checkpoint with a knife and a water bottle in his hands, then running past police barricades with several officers running after him before finally getting shot in the back and falling to the ground.

Eye witnesses later said the young man had argued with the police at the checkpoint, and asked to take off his clothes.

Angered, Kurkut shouted, “I don’t have anything on me,” before taking off his cardigan, running to a nearby butcher’s shop to grab a knife and coming back the scene of the incident.

Police attempted to delete Gök’s photos at the time, the photographer told the Media and Law Studies Association.

The journalist’s home was raided twice following the incident and is facing 20 years in prison over terrorism charges.

Gök’s photos helped identify officer Y.Ş., and the second-degree murder charge was brought after the public outcry over the photos.

The governorate identifying Kurkut as a suicide bomber “was an order for the media to take the correct position,” Gök told MLSA.

“And all publications loyal to the government, not the people took the order to heart. Those who didn’t, those who wrote the truth have been made to pay a price.”

“If it wasn’t for these photos, my brother’s murder would have been forgotten with the lie that a suicide bomber had been neutralized,” Ercan Kurkut said.

“These courthouses always produce injustice,” lawyer and pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) deputy Meral Danış Beştaş told reporters after the hearing. “This ruling shows how worthless human life is in this country.”

Human Rights Association (İHD) Diyarbakır chapter chairman Abdullah Zeytun said the acquittal “paved the way for the death of other Kemal’s. This is what we mean when we speak of impunity.”

Turkey Human Rights Foundation (TİHV) Secretary General Coşkun Üsterci said impunity encouraged security forces to overstep their legal bounds.

“It isn’t sincere to speak of reforms when the Kurkut case ends in impunity and we continue to witness torture and mistreatment,” Üsterci said, referring to recent statements by the justice minister stressing the importance of the rule of law and the president heralding judicial reform for Turkey earlier this month.