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Crime, Courts & Legal Issues

New Probe Launched into Fatal Shooting of Nigerian Refugee at Istanbul Police Post

New Probe Launched into Fatal Shooting of Nigerian Refugee at Istanbul Police Post

A new investigation will be launched into the murder of Nigerian refugee Festus Okey, killed by an officer’s bullet during an interrogation at an Istanbul post, seven years after the fatal shooting that caused public outcry, a lawyer has said.

Festus Okey had been detained on Aug. 20, 2007, for not carrying identification and was brought to the Beyoğlu police post, located nearby the city’s entertainment center. He was fatally shot by Yıldız after his interrogation.

The officer Cengiz Yıldız was sentenced to four years and two months of prison on charges of “involuntary manslaughter” after a legal process that drew much controversy over the loss of evidence and the refusal by the court to include Okey’s family as an integral part of the trial.

Lawyer Alp Tekin Ocak, who filed a complaint for a retrial on behalf of the victim’s brother, said the fresh investigation was launched this time on charges of murder in the first degree. He also accused those who conducted the first investigation of deliberately spoliating evidence to cover-up the crime, adding they will also be investigated on murder charges in the new investigation.

“The perpetrator of the murder is not only the officer who pulled the trigger, but also the ones who detained Okey, those who conducted the interrogation and the chief of the police post of Istanbul’s Beyoğlu district,” he said.

Okey had been detained on Aug. 20, 2007, for not carrying identification and was brought to the Beyoğlu police post, located nearby the city’s entertainment center. He was fatally shot by Yıldız after his interrogation. Before his killing, Okey had told police officers that he was intending to apply for asylum to the U.N.’s refugee agency, which would give him temporary protection in Turkey. 

His case dragged for four years, as the court could not certify Okey’s identity after the defendant’s lawyers claimed the Nigerian’s visa was fake. In the trial, the officer was convicted to four years and two months in prison in 2011 by Istanbul’s 21st High Criminal Court in a disputed ruling during which one of the three judges objected the verdict, demanding 20 years of imprisonment. The ruling was overturned by the Supreme Court of Appeals, but the Istanbul court eventually upheld its previous verdict in June.

Details may prove cover-up

The defense had claimed during the trial that Okey’s shirt containing bloodstains was lost, while cameras at the police post were not working at the time of the murder. Ocak also noted the prosecution was only informed about the shooting almost three hours after Okey was rushed to the hospital.

“This is another element that indicates many things were hidden and the perpetrators tried to cover-up the incident in the interval,” he said.

Ocak also stressed the officer who detained Okey, Kamutay Akçil, participated to the search at Okey’s home after the murder, during which a small amount of drugs was found. “This suggests some police have faked all of this to prevent other officers from standing trial,” he said.

The murder had drawn attention on the condition of illegal immigrants in Turkey, particularly from Africa who not only face huge precarity, but also generalized discrimination, including from the police. Many campaigns were organized by civil rights groups for a fair trial for Okey and the case won a symbolic dimension with associations also denouncing impunity regarding police abuse.