Monday, November 21, 2005

Turkey: Police Killings Follow Attack on Bookstore

(New York, November 18, 2005)?The shooting deaths this week of at
least four demonstrators by Turkish police signals an alarming
deterioration in the human rights situation in southeastern Turkey,
Human Rights Watch said today. Growing police violence against
demonstrators jeopardizes the significant human rights progress that
Turkey has achieved in recent years.

"Turkish police appear to have used excessive force in the shooting
deaths of four unarmed demonstrators,? said Holly Cartner, Europe
and Central Asia director of Human Rights Watch. "If security forces
are allowed to revert to their old ways with impunity, not only will
more lives be lost, but the achievements of the past few years will also
be squandered."

According to eyewitness reports, police shot and killed ?smail Bartin,
Ersin Menge?, Abd?lhaluk Geylani and G?yasettin Avc? during violent
disturbances following a press conference in the town of Y?ksekova
on November 15. Eyewitnesses reported that police abruptly used
force to disperse people who had assembled to listen to the reading of
a press release issued by the Democratic People?s Party (DEHAP)
about events in the nearby town of ?emdinli.

In ?emdinli on November 9, local people had apprehended two army
intelligence officers who appear to have been involved in a grenade
attack on a Kurdish bookshop that killed one civilian.

The exact circumstances of the deaths of the demonstrators in
Y?ksekova are not known, but they appear to be part of a growing
pattern of excessive force by police. After the reading of DEHAP?s
press release, gendarmes apparently drove an armoured car at the
assembled crowd to disperse them, injuring two women. The angry
crowd threw stones at the security forces. When another armoured car
crashed into an electricity pylon, the crowd seized some security force
members and beat them. Other armoured vehicles, police and
gendarmes opened fire on the crowd, killing four and wounding nine,
including two juveniles. Security forces claimed that firearms were
used against them, but the seven wounded members of the security
forces were either beaten by the crowd or hit by stones.

It is by no means clear that the assembly in Y?ksekova was, in its
early stages, unlawful. In this case the security forces need not have
dispersed it. The United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force
and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials require that law
enforcement officials who are dispersing assemblies that are unlawful
but nonviolent must avoid force or, where that is not practicable, use
minimum force.

In this case, Y?ksekova police chose the violent and potentially lethal
path of driving armoured vehicles into the assembled crowd. Once the
scene had become a street confrontation between angry demonstrators
and security forces, police used some non-lethal means, including tear
gas. But then, without giving the warning stipulated by the U.N.
Principles, the police resorted to the use of firearms. The principles
state that where the lawful use of force and firearms is unavoidable,
law enforcement officials shall use restraint and act in proportion to
the seriousness of the offence.

The crowd was certainly attacking the police with stones, but there is
no evidence beyond security force statements that the crowd was using
firearms. If the aim was to clear the streets, automatic gunfire was
clearly a disproportionate means to achieve this end. The high casualty
rate suggests that security forces were not restrained in their use of
lethal force, and were at least indiscriminate.

The fact that two of the victims, Bartin and Menge?, both died as a
result of multiple bullet wounds to the chest and heart suggest that
security forces were shooting to kill. Intentional lethal use of firearms
may only be made when strictly unavoidable in order to protect life.

These shootings are the most recent in a spate of police killings of
demonstrators. In the past year, Turkish police have repeatedly used
disproportionate and lethal force to break up demonstrations that turn
violent. Television images of police assaulting non-violent
demonstrators with batons and pepper gas on International Women?s
Day earned a sharp statement from visiting European Union delegates
in March. Police and gendarmes have shot dead a total of eight
demonstrators this year, including the deaths in Y?ksekova.

"In the last three years, police in Turkey had improved their response
to demonstrations, but this has been a bloody year," said Cartner. "The
government needs to send a clear message that the use of excessive
force by its security forces will not be tolerated and will be punished."

The grenade attack in ?emdinli on November 9 killed one man,
Mehmet Korkmaz, and wounded eight others. A man running away
from the scene, a "confessor" (former PKK member who has turned
state?s evidence), together with two gendarmes in plainclothes, were
apprehended by local inhabitants. The local people handed the three
men over to the police, but refused to move away from the scene,
fearing that the authorities might attempt to destroy evidence.

Instead the locals searched the back of the gendarmes? car, where they
discovered three Kalashnikov assault rifles, a hand grenade, and maps
not only of the bookshop but also of an area of ?emdinli where a much
larger bomb had exploded on November 1. When the local prosecutor
came to the crime scene, a gendarmerie armoured vehicle opened fire
on the crowd, killing one member of the public, Ali Y?lmaz, and
wounding four others.

In recent months, there have been numerous bombing incidents in the
region, and local human rights organizations have questioned whether
the security forces are behind this pattern; 17 such bombings have
occurred since July according to a parliamentary question tabled by the
opposition Republican People?s Party.

The officer in charge of the armoured vehicle and the man who
allegedly threw the grenade in ?emdinli were arrested, but the two
plainclothes gendarmes were released by the public prosecutor. Prime
Minister Tayyip Erdo?an has said that the incident will be investigated
without bias. However, the Office of the Chief of General Staff merely
noted there were allegations that soldiers were involved in the grenade
attack and shooting, and that the matter was now in the hands of the
judiciary.

The Turkish judiciary has an appalling record in investigating security
force abuses. The European Court of Human Rights has noted in
scores of judgments that prosecutors are reluctant to indict or even
question members of the security forces.

Human Rights Watch has written to the Turkish government urging a
prompt and impartial investigation into the attack in ?emdinli, and into
the deaths of the four demonstrators in Y?ksekova.

To view this document on the Human Rights Watch web site, please
visit: http://hrw.org/english/docs/2005/11/18/turkey12064.htm

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