A Turkish human rights lawyer who was last month the subject of a Law Society intervention has been shot dead.

Tahir Elci (pictured), president of the bar association in the southeastern city of Diyarbakir, was killed yesterday after making a speech calling for peace between security forces and Kurdish separatists, news agencies reported. 

Elci was arrested last month after stating in a television interview that the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) should not be classified as a terrorist organisation. In a letter to the Turkish government Law Society president Jonathan Smithers expressed his concern at the arrest and said that lawyers are entitled to freedom of expression as set out in article 23 of the UN Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers.

News agency reports today say that Elci was killed in Diyarbakir during a gun battle between police officers and an unidentified gunman who attacked a rally in the predominantly Kurdish city. Elci had just concluded a speech in which he said: 'We do not want guns, clashes and operations here.'

A lawyer who witnessed the incident, Nazim Baran Vurak, said the speech had just finished when gunshots rang out. 'Police immediately reached for their guns and people hid wherever they could,' he said.

Turkish prime minister Ahmet Davutoglu promised to hold a 'transparent' investigation into the killing. 'One possibility is that after this terror attack, the assailants assassinated Mr Elci,' he said. 'A second possibility is that... Elci got caught in the crossfire.'

The Diyarbakir Bar Association condemned 'this cowardly attack against our president'.

Tony Fisher, a member of the Law Society human rights committee, said: ‘There are not many like Tahir Elci. His humanity, humour, independence and singleness of purpose were infectious. He was a great influencer and a fighter to the end. His energy and enthusiasm, his dedication and his love for his work and for his family were an inspiration. He will be so sadly missed, not only amongst his community of lawyers friends and supporters in Turkey, but by the wider international community of human rights practitioners in Europe.

'For me, I have lost a true friend and colleague who I will mourn forever.'