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Turkey: Officials Created Climate For Shooting Rights Activists

London, 13 May 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Amnesty International says Turkish authorities "created the climate" for the shooting today of the president of the Turkish Human Rights Association (HRA) because they have persistently sought to discredit the organization.

Two unidentified assailants burst into the HRA offices in Ankara yesterday and opened fire on HRA president Akin Birdal. He suffered six bullet wounds and is in a critical condition in hospital.

Amnesty International said in a statement tonight: "Turkish authorities have consistently failed to investigate or condemn earlier fatal attacks on officials" of the human rights association.

The statement also says that the Turkish Foreign Ministry has taken every opportunity to undermine the HRA and Birdal in particular. It says this may have been official policy.

The statement says the unprovoked attack was the result of the Turkish authorities "irresponsible handling" of alleged confessions by Semdin Sakik, a former military commander of the Kurdish Workers' Party (PKK) who was recently abducted by Turkish security forces in northern Iraq.

The Turkish press published alleged confessions by Semdin Sakik in which numerous prominent people critical of the government -- including Birdal -- were implicated as having actively supported the PKK.

More than 10 officials of the HRA have been killed since 1991. In most cases the assailants were unidentified, although the attacks took place at the same time as intense police harassment of human rights activists. One victim identified his attackers as police officers before he died of his wounds four years ago. Amnesty says that it appears that such murders of HRA members were not properly investigated by the authorities.

The text of what was apparently a secret Interior Ministry circular in January referred to human rights groups as being used by the PKK and recommended that local governors and the police should "take measures to eliminate the impression of credibility" of people who "incite the public"

The statement notes that the uncorroborated allegations attributed to Semdin Sakik were given enormous publicity.

The bitter conflict between Turkish government forces and the PKK in southeast Turkey has claimed more than 28,000 lives since 1984.

The statement by the worldwide human rights movement said the Turkish government silence "in the face of gross violations was irresponsible and has given license to the attackers."

The statement says it is time the Turkish government, at the highest level, condemns such attacks, and publicly acknowledges the important contribution made by the HRA and other human rights groups.