Evidence tampering claim now included in prosecution file of slain Kurdish lawyer

A witness statement claiming that the head of Turkey’s Council of Forensic Medicine (ATK) removed crucial evidence that could have solved the murder of a prominent pro-Kurdish lawyer was added to the case file, the T24 news portal reported on Wednesday.

The Diyarbakır Bar Association Chairman Tahir Elci, also a human rights activist, was shot dead on November 28, 2015, while making a press statement in the Sur district of Turkey’s southeastern Diyarbakir province.

There are no suspects in the case and the person responsible for the fatal shot is still unknown after four years.

Elci’s family members, along with rights defenders, continue to lament that there has been no effective investigation into the shooting.

According to a report by Gokcer Tahincioglu from T24, an ATK staff member’s allegation that Yalcin Buyuk, the ATK chairman, tampered with crucial evidence was added by the Diyarbakir Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office to the investigation file a few days ago.

Bold Medya, an online news portal, on September 11 published a report on the testimony of Mehtap Altug, who works as a forensic geneticist in the Istanbul Forensic Institution.

Altug claims that Buyuk had a DNA sample belonging to a male individual removed with the help of ATK deputy chair Omer Muslumanoglu, unit manager Bestami Colak, and specialist Arif Bingol.

Buyuk also removed the DNA sample as evidence from the National Judiciary Informatics System, the official database of Turkey’s judiciary, Altug further alleges.

The ATK chair and the trio who allegedly helped him tamper with crucial evidence related to Elci’s murder still hold their posts at the institution despite the testimony by Altug and the report by Bold Medya.

T24 also said that lawyers of the Elci family and the Diyarbakir Bar Association think Altug’s statement is critical not only for the claims that it makes but also for pointing out that Elci’s murder is not an ordinary case and that there might be further evidence tampering or loss.

The ATK rejected Altug’s claims when she made them in testimony in 2016. She repeated them in another statement last month confirming that she stood by her original 2016 testimony.

Elci’s murder took place in a time when armed conflicts were taking place between outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and Turkish government forces in southeastern Turkey after Ankara put an end to a two-year-long peace process between the two parties.

He was killed during a press conference in which he was urging Turkey’s governing Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the Kurdish rebels to keep clashes away from civilian areas in the region.

While the state-run Anadolu news agency and some other Turkish media outlets initially blamed two members of PKK’s youth wing (YDG-H) for Elci’s death, a study of the incident’s video footage and first-hand accounts of what happened moved the suspicion to police officers stationed in the area.

Amnesty International said the investigation “smacked of a cover-up” for multiple reasons, including the loss of potentially critical evidence by not securing and processing the crime scene immediately and only collecting minimal evidence two days later.

The Diyarbakır Bar Association requested, a year after the lawyer’s death, that the Forensic Architecture (FA) examine the evidence shared by the Public Prosecutor’s Office.

The FA is a multidisciplinary research group based at Goldsmiths, University of London, that uses architectural techniques and technologies to investigate violations of human rights and cases of state violence around the world.

As a result of the re-examination, which included 3D modeling of the incident, the FA indicated that the two YDG-H militants partially obstructed the line of fire, meaning that one of the three police officers might have fired the fatal shot.

The report also did not rule out the possibility of Elci dying of crossfire between the Turkish security forces and the outlawed PKK militants.

It was also claimed in the FA report that according to the video footage of the murder, nobody in the vicinity attempted to check the lawyer’s condition or give him medical attention for at least 13 minutes after he was shot.

After the FA’s report was submitted, the Diyarbakir Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office asked the ATK for a new account on the lawyer’s murder in March, the T24 formerly said in a report.

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