In a landmark decision on Tuesday, a Turkish court handed down a prison sentence of 25 years to a police officer who shot a young Syrian refugee to death last year, according to the Mezopotamya news agency.
Ali El Hamdani, 17, was killed by police officer F.K. in southern Adana province in April 2020 after he fled a security checkpoint. An official statement released by the Adana Governor’s Office at the time said he was “accidentally shot by warning shots” after he continued to run despite calls to stop.
Hamdani ran away from the security checkpoint to avoid a possible fine because of a nationwide curfew imposed on people below the age of 20 against the COVID-19 pandemic. The young Syrian had continued to work during the outbreak, according to Turkish media.
The police officer, identified only by the initials F.K., was arrested immediately after the murder and was put on trial.
The last hearing in the trial was held at the Adana 9th High Criminal Court on Tuesday at which the police officer was initially given a life sentence on conviction of murder. However, the judges reduced the life sentence to 25 years in prison, citing F.K.’s good conduct in court.
The trial was followed by lawyers from leading human rights groups in Turkey including the Human Rights Association (İHD) and the Contemporary Lawyers Association (ÇHD).
The lawyer for the Hamdani family had demanded that the police officer be tried on charges of premeditated murder, which requires an aggravated life sentence, based on camera footage showing the moments of the murder.
The recordings, according to the lawyer, show that Hamdani did not flee the checkpoint and was shot at a close range by F.K., contrary to his claim that it was accidental.
The bullet hit near Hamdani’s heart. Video footage circulating on social media showed an emergency medical team working on a young man, claimed to be Hamdani, before putting him in an ambulance.
The court’s ruling was welcomed by the rights groups because it is the first time that a police officer who killed someone for disobeying an order to halt has been given a lengthy prison sentence on murder charges. However, they said there should have been no reduction in the life sentence initially given to the police officer by the court.
“The court ruling made today is a positive one despite being insufficient. He [the police officer] was given a life sentence. There should have been no reduction because the murder is clearly seen in camera footage,” lawyer Yasemin Dora Şeker told reporters in front of the courthouse.
Lawyer Tugay Bek said many people have been killed in Turkey for failing to observe police’s order to halt and the police officers have all gone unpunished or been given a light sentence.
“A police officer who shot someone to death for failing to observe their call to stop has for the first time been given a prison sentence on murder charges,” said Bek, voicing hope that the court’s ruling will prompt police officers not to violate human rights and to act more carefully in using their guns when dealing with suspects.
Hate crimes and violence against refugees and migrants, who are blamed for many of Turkey’s social and economic troubles, have been escalating in the country in recent years.
Turkey currently hosts the largest refugee population in the world. Some 3.7 million of them are Syrians who fled the war that continues to ravage their country.