Top United Nations human rights officials called on Turkish authorities on Monday to investigate the shooting of unarmed citizens 10 days ago in the mostly Kurdish southeast of the country and to rein in its security forces.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein was referring to an incident in which 10 people were wounded in the southeastern town of Cizre on Jan. 20 when their group, which included two deputies from the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), came under fire while rescuing people hurt in clashes earlier in the day.
“Today I am urging the Turkish authorities to respect the fundamental rights of civilians in its security operations and to promptly investigate the alleged shooting of a group of unarmed people in the southeastern town of Cizre after shocking video footage emerged last week,” Zeid told a news briefing.
“The footage, apparently shot by [İMC TV cameraman] Refik Tekin in Cizre some 10 days ago, is extremely shocking,” the UN human rights chief said.
He said the footage showed what appeared to be a man and woman holding white flags and pushing a cart — possibly carrying bodies — across a street, watched by an armored military vehicle.
“As they reach the other side, they are apparently cut down in a hail of gunfire, and Tekin keeps filming as blood flows past his lens,” Zeid said in a statement, also expressing concern that the cameraman, who was wounded in the shooting, may face arrest under a “clampdown on media.”
Journalist Tekin is reported to be in Mardin State Hospital with a police officer waiting outside his room. A variety of reports suggest custody orders, signed by a governor and a prosecutor, have been issued accusing cameraman Tekin of being a member of a “separatist terrorist organization.”
Turkish media reported on Monday that Tekin was taken to a police station and was then released after he was questioned on Monday.
“Filming an atrocity is not a crime, but shooting unarmed civilians most certainly is,” he said, in unusually strong criticism.
“It is essential there is a thorough, independent, impartial investigation into this and any other events that have led to the wounding or killing of civilians. The emergence of this video raises major question marks about what exactly has been going on in Cizre and other parts of southeastern Turkey, which the security forces have allegedly sealed off from the outside world.”
The Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) said in a written statement on Jan. 20 that a group of its politicians and members were caught in a hail of bullets while trying to move four injured and three dead civilians out of a neighborhood under curfew in Cizre, announcing that 10 people, including İMC TV cameraman Tekin, were injured in the gunfire.
A report on İMC TV’s website claimed on Jan. 20 that police opened fire on the group.
HDP Co-chair Selahattin Demirtaş also confirmed later that deputies from the HDP were shot at while they were trying to take injured civilians out of the area so they could receive treatment and that they had taken shelter in the basement of a house to escape the gunfire.
He also said HDP Şırnak deputy Faysal Sarıyıldız and several HDP co-mayors were among the group marching to Cizre’s Cudi neighborhood, where the injured were reportedly being kept.
The authorities have been imposing curfews in towns and districts to flush out terrorist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) militants from urban areas in the mostly Kurdish Southeast since the collapse of a peace process with the PKK late in July last year. The Turkish Human Rights Foundation (TİHV) says at least 198 civilians, including 39 children, have died in combat areas under curfew since August 2015. According to media reports, more than 250 members of the security forces have been killed in clashes in the region.
The Turkish army says more than 600 militants have been killed since operations began in Cizre in December and denies killing large numbers of civilians.
Government officials say the PKK, which the United States and European Union class as a terrorist group, has caused civilian deaths by digging trenches and erecting barricades in urban centres.
Media freedom in Turkey
“The country has an alarming number of journalists and other media operatives either already convicted or awaiting trial,” Zeid said.
“This raises questions about Turkey’s compliance with the right to freedom of expression, enshrined in Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Turkey has ratified. Anti-terrorism legislation should not be used as a means to curtail freedom of opinion or expression.”
Zeid also voiced concern at the prosecution of two well-known Turkish journalists, the editor-in-chief of the Cumhuriyet newspaper, Can Dündar, and its Ankara bureau chief, Erdem Gül.
The staunchly secularist Cumhuriyet daily has long been very critical of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the ruling Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party (AK Party) that he founded more than a decade ago.
“No one should be facing life sentences, as in the cases of Can Dündar and Erdem Gül, because of an article or articles they wrote. Journalists and other media workers should not be arrested, detained or prosecuted for the legitimate and peaceful exercise of their profession. It is the role of the media to stimulate critical debate on matters of public interest,” Zeid said.
Dündar and Gül were arrested on Nov. 26 of last year, having been charged in May with espionage, revealing confidential documents and membership in a terrorist organization. The charges relate to a report published by Cumhuriyet which claimed that trucks loaded with weapons that were discovered in January 2014 en route to Syria actually belonged to the National Intelligence Organization (MİT) and had allegedly been sent to provide armed support to rebel groups.