Human Rights Watch today condemned the May 12th shooting of Akin Birdal, the General Secretary of the Human Rights Association of Turkey (IHD), the largest human rights organization in the country.
Mr. Birdal was shot six times on Tuesday by two unknown gunmen in downtown Ankara at IHD headquarters. He is presently in serious condition in an Ankara hospital. We express our deepest concern for Mr. Birdal and extend our sympathy to his family, colleagues, and friends.
Despite more than twenty criminal cases filed against him, Mr. Birdal continued his vocal, high-profile struggle to improve human rights for all citizens of Turkey. Human Rights Watch considers the shooting an attack on those in Turkey fighting for increased democratization and the rule of law.
Human Rights Watch calls on the government of Turkey to investigate the shooting thoroughly and bring those who perpetrated this attack to justice. While the attackers and their motives are still unknown, Human Rights Watch remains deeply concerned that Mr. Birdal_along with leading newspaper columnists Mehmet Ali Birand and Çengiz Çandar_were recently identified as active supporters of the Workers' Party of Kurdistan (PKK) in unsubstantiated and dubious allegations that state officials leaked to the press.
"We are shocked at the shooting of Mr. Birdal. It's a barbarous act that occurred in the heart of Ankara," said Holly Cartner, executive director of the Europe and Central Asia division of Human Rights Watch. "The government must do all in its power to bring the perpetrators to justice. And the US government should use its relationship with Turkey to encourage a serious inquiry." Cartner noted that just a week ago Mr. Birdal was the luncheon guest of the US ambassador to Turkey.
The press leaks smearing Mr. Birdal also indicted a range of individuals and organizations known for their opposition or criticism of state policy. The allegations were supposedly made by Mr. emdin Sak k, a top PKK field commander. He was captured in April by Turkish forces and is presently being interrogated. None of his statements have been independently confirmed, and it is not known if Mr. Sak k in fact made them.