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Death of Kurdish teenager in police target practice area might be explosion-related: report

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The death of Muharrem Aksem, a Kurdish teenager whose body was found in a police target practice area in southeastern Turkey on March 24, might be due to the explosion of a nearby object, Euronews Turkish service reported on Monday, citing comments and statements on the boy’s preliminary autopsy report.

Sixteen-year-old Aksem was a shepherd and had gone out to tend to his animals. His body was discovered late on March 24 in an open area in Turkey’s southeastern Şanlıurfa province that is used by special operations police twice a week for target practice. On the day the body was discovered, officers had been practicing in the area, according to witness statements, local media reports said.

According to Euronews, Aksem’s preliminary autopsy report revealed that 12 different sizes of metallic objects were removed from his body; he had multiple wounds on his face and body; and his right hand was severed.

Commenting on the report, the family’s lawyer Hatice Akıllı Öz told Euronews that the report did not include the cause of death, adding that at first glance, they suspected it might be an explosion that had killed the boy.

The Urfa Governor’s Office also released a statement, saying that based on the data from the preliminary report, the victim died as a result of the detonation of an object that he may have found after 5.30 p.m. on Thursday, when he made his last phone call.

In a parliamentary question posed to Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu, Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu, a human rights advocate and deputy for the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), asked if the police had killed the Kurdish teenager.

The MP also asked how many police officers were being investigated and how many of them had been suspended over Aksem’s death.

Another opposition lawmaker, Mustafa Yeneroğlu from the Democracy and Progress Party (DEVA), wanted to know why the necessary precautions weren’t taken in and around the target practice area used by the police.

“According to the governor’s statement, an object that the deceased found and picked up exploded in the area where the target practice took place. If this statement is correct, why didn’t the [officers] clear the area where they were doing target practice, leaving explosive objects there?” Yeneroğlu said in a parliamentary question.

Speaking to Deutsche Welle Turkish service about the incident, Turkey’s Human Rights Association (İHD) Urfa provincial branch head Mustafa Vefa claimed that the police officers  participating in the shooting practice were breaking the law.

“If there is to be shooting practice somewhere, it must be in line with the law, and the people who live in the area should be informed about it. Warning signs should be put up, and the area should be marked off,” Vefa said.

Vefa added that the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) government’s policy of impunity for law enforcement officers in such incidents unfortunately indicates that similar deaths will continue to take place in Turkey.

According to a report by the Diyarbakır Bar Association, 67 children have been killed in Turkey in accidents involving explosions and armored vehicles over the past 10 years, mostly in Kurdish-populated areas, DW said.

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