Trial of 13 police officers accused of killing protester in 2011 finally begins

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The trial of 13 police officers charged with killing a protestor during a 2011 demonstration in Artvin province against a government power plant project has started nearly 10 years after the incident.

Affected by pepper spray during a protest prior to a rally led by then-prime minister and current President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Artvin’s Hopa district on May 31, 2011, Metin Lokumcu, a 54-year-old retired teacher, had a heart attack and died in the hospital.

According to Turkish media reports 13 police officers face up to six years in prison for causing Lokumcu’s death by negligence in the trial that began at the Trabzon 2nd Criminal Court of First Instance on Wednesday.

Ahead of Wednesday’s hearing, the Trabzon Governor’s Office issued a ban on all types of demonstrations and protests across the city that will be in effect until April 26.

The hearing was attended by Erkan Baş, chairman of the Workers’ Party of Turkey (TİP), and Ahmet Şık, who joined the party this week, as well as Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) lawmaker Murat Çepni and main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) deputy Sezgin Tanrıkulu.

After the defendants’ lawyer Celal Karoğlu demanded their release, Lokumcu family lawyer Meriç Eyüboğlu argued that the 13 police officers should be charged with “killing with eventual intent” instead of “death by negligence.”

“Can the death of Mr. Lokumcu due to pepper spray be interpreted as negligence? The answer to the question of whether the defendants were able to foresee the consequences of their actions – which are impossible not to foresee – will determine which court should hear this case,” she said, adding that it should be heard by a high criminal court where eventual intent can be open to discussion.

Eyüboğlu also indicated that 13 people have died in Turkey from the adverse effects of pepper spray during police interventions since 2007.

Speaking to the Diken news website, she emphasized that if the court rules to punish the police officers for the death of a protestor, it would set a precedent for similar cases and hopefully prevent officers in Turkey from using the pepper spray as “easily” and “recklessly” as they did in the past.

“As people living in this land, we have seen tens of cases where killers [who are also civil servants] have acted with impunity and never appeared in court. I’m happy to see this wasn’t yet another complaint that ended with a decision of non-prosecution,” Eyüboğlu noted.

The problem of impunity became much more obvious following a failed military coup in Turkey in July 2016, with a number of reports revealing that the majority of torture-related complaints against civil servants had not been investigated.

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