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Why shoot the messenger?

5 April 2015

On Tuesday 31st March, Prosecutor Mehmet Selim Kiraz was held hostage in his office at Istanbul Justice House by two men.

The hostage takers claimed to be members of the outlawed Revolutionary People Liberation Party and Front (DHKP-C). They demanded that the three policemen suspected of being linked to the shooting of 15 year old Berkin Elvan should make a public confession, amongst other demands. If their demands were not met, they would kill the prosecutor, they said.

What is puzzling is why these people shot the only man to come close to bringing those policemen to justice? Were they just ultra-left wing hotheads, don’t they read newspapers, was there someone else behind this act? It was reported in Turkish daily ‘Hurriyet’ that the Istanbul Police Department, at Kiraz’ insistence, had finally sent the identities of the policemen suspected of shooting Berkin Elvan, a full year after the 15-year-old died, having languished for 269 days in a coma.

Despite nationwide protests demanding punishment for Elvan’s killers, the Istanbul police failed to inform the prosecutor for a year about the three suspected officers seen in security camera footage. It finally provided the identities and photographs of 21 policemen, Doğan News Agency reported on 18th March.

Prosecutor Mehmet Selim Kiraz recently forwarded the information to the National Criminal Bureau to assess if the three suspects were among the 21 policemen in the file, according to the report.

Berkin Elvan was shot in the head with a tear gas canister during a police crackdown on protesters on June 16, 2013, and died from his injuries on March 11, 2014.

Kiraz was the sixth prosecutor to take on the Gezi Park cases, including that of Berkin Elvan. What happened to his five predecessors? Why did it take the Istanbul Police so long to hand over the names of those 21 policemen on duty at the time?

Prosecutor Kiraz, in an interview with ‘Hurriyet’ only days before he lost his life, said that there had been over two terabytes of film covering the Gezi Park protests to examine.

Kiraz was only appointed to the task in September 2014, but it was he who had demanded that Istanbul Police hand over their evidence. Until then no other prosecutors appear to have made much progress. In the face of much criticism about the length of time it was taking to name the police suspects, Kiraz said that he wanted to be fair to all sides.

On the face of it an extremist group lost its patience and tragically killed the only man who had made any real progress on the case.

After six hours of negotiating with the two armed men and after the deadline was up, the police stormed Kiraz’ office. Both of the hostage takers were killed, apparently after they had shot the prosecutor, twice in the head and three times in the stomach.

Earlier official reports said that he was rushed to hospital where surgeons tried to save his life, however, he died. These reports do not coincide with the report made by Dr. Çavlan Çiftçi of Istanbul Bilim University who took part in the operation to save him. He said afterwards Kiraz’s heartbeat and breathing had already stopped by the time he was brought in to the hospital and all their efforts to revive him had failed.

Another conflicting report according to Turkish daily ‘Zaman’ regarding Kiraz’ wounds was that the doctors said that he had received ten gunshot wounds to the front and back of his body, four shots in one shoulder, possibly indicating that he had been caught in the crossfire between captors and police. Nevertheless, it looks mostly likely that he was fatally wounded by his captors as one of the bullets recovered was from a 7.65mm French long pistol which was held by his captors who taken him hostage.

‘Hurriyet’ journalist Murat Yetkin reports that medical sources said the police asked for an immediate transfer of Kiraz’ body to Forensic Medicine for burial. Reportedly bullets removed from his body were taken there in a separate bag by the police. Yetkin points out that it means it would have been extremely difficult (especially in such a short time, since he was to be buried by noon on 1st April) to determine details like entry angles and shooting distance, since his chest had already been opened in the hospital.

Referring to police sources, Turkish media reported on 2nd April, the bullets were from one of the terrorists’ 7.65 French-made pistol, while none were from the police officers trying to get into the room while clashing with the two DHKP-C militants for a couple of minutes. There has been no official document published on the ballistics report, just as there has not been one on the autopsy.

According an official statement, an autopsy was performed at the Council of Forensic Medicine (ATK) at 1.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 1st April. Yetkin of ‘Hurriyet’ comments that there was very little time for a thorough forensic examination of Kiraz’ body as his burial was scheduled for that same day. What was hurry?

The Berkin Elvan case has been a long-running embarrassment to the government and its police. That Kiraz may have been about to reveal the names of the three policemen suspected of involvement in the killing of Elvan, just before the June General Elections in Turkey is inconvenient to say the least.

Murat Yetin asks who would benefit from the death of Prosecutor Kiraz. Obviously if the Elvan case is allowed to fall below the public radar, at least until the elections are over, then the answer is obvious.

One is left wondering if the truth will be allowed to come to light about Berkin Elvan, was he a protester, intent on violence, or was he just that lad sent out to buy bread, as his family testified, only to become an unwitting victim in the Gezi protests?

Sources Hurriyet and Zaman

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