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Fifteen-year-old Berkin Elvan has died after 269 days in a coma. The Istanbul schoolboy incurred a head injury that doctors say was most likely inflicted by police shooting a teargas canister directly at him at close range. The incident happened during the June 2013 protests in many Istanbul neighborhoods and in cities across Turkey, triggered by the police’s violent dispersal of a demonstration against the development of a park in Istanbul’s Taksim Square. In scenes broadcast around the world, police repeatedly used excessive force against largely peaceful demonstrators.
Berkin’s parents told Human Rights Watch how their son, then 14, had left the house on the morning of June 16 to buy bread. He never returned and was taken straight to hospital.
During the protests, Human Rights Watch documented demonstrators’ serious head injuries and loss of sight incurred by police firing teargas canisters at close range directly at protesters. The European Court has ruled (Abdullah Yasa and others v. Turkey) that the firing of tear gas by Turkish police directly at protestors violates international legal standards.
Nine months on there has been no effective investigation into the police for fatally injuring Berkin Elvan or for the serious head injuries incurred by dozens of others. Rapid Deployment Unit officers charged with public order policing who were on duty that morning in the neighbourhood where the Elvan family live told the public prosecutor in January and February 2014 when they were interviewed that they didn’t remember what happened, if they were even there at the time, or whether they used teargas.
There is an urgent need to identify which officers used teargas launchers to determine who shot Berkin, and to examine the whole episode in terms of the command responsibility of senior officers. Police violence against demonstrators is an endemic problem in Turkey; a culture of impunity is entrenched. Berkin Elvan, the boy in the coma who never woke up, has become a symbol of Turkey’s record of police violence and lack of accountability. Berkin and his family deserve justice.