Health workers and supporters greet Dr. Şebnem Fincancı after she leaves Istanbul prison, January 11, 2023. Photo: Free Şebnem Campaign
Physician Şebnem Korur Fincancı, president of the Turkish Medical Association (TTB), was sentenced to almost three years of jail in Istanbul on January 11, 2023. While the court found Dr. Fincancı guilty of the charges of “spreading terrorist propaganda,” she was released from prison on the same day as there will be an appeals process.
Dr. Fincancı, an acclaimed forensic expert, faced persecution after she called for an independent investigation into the alleged use of chemical weapons against members of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in northern Iraq.
The court’s decision has already been denounced by several international public health networks, including the Standing Committee of European Doctors (CPME).
CPME President Dr. Christiaan Keijzer and Vice-President Dr. Ole Johan Bakke warned that the sentencing of Dr. Fincancı represented a gross violation of civil rights, particularly her right to free speech. “No evidence was presented by the prosecution that could possibly justify the charges Prof Fincancı has been found guilty of. The verdict is unfounded, unlawful and unacceptable,” said Dr. Bakke in a statement published by the CPME. Dr. Keijzer, in a statement, said, “European doctors are appalled by the conviction of Prof Şebnem Korur Fincancı and we call for the sentence to be overturned.”
Various sources, including Dr. Fincancı’s lawyer, have confirmed that there will be an appeal against the court’s decision.
Targeting of Turkish Medical Association
Since Dr. Fincancı’s arrest on October 26, 2022, organizations like the People’s Health Movement (PHM) Europe and the International Association of Health Policy Europe (IAHPE) have been reiterating that her persecution is part of a larger political process against the TTB conducted by the Erdoğan administration. Organizations such as Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and the World Medical Association (WMA) have also made the same charge.
Many of these organizations have also linked the crackdown on the TTB to the upcoming elections in Turkey. As the country finds itself in the midst of an economic and social crisis, the current administration has been silencing critical voices. For years, the TTB has been a loud advocate for improvements of the health system in Turkey and rights of health workers.
Concerns about the systemic pressures against the TTB continue to grow as the prosecution is pursuing charges against members of the TTB’s Central Committee. Parallel to the arrest of Dr. Fincancı, the government launched a legal campaign to remove elected representatives from the Central Committee and replace them with temporary members.
According to other medical associations, this would represent a case of government interference in what should be an independent professional body. The WMA and CPME condemned this agenda a day before the hearing against the TTB’s Central Committee members on January 10. Their statement called upon the government to cease persecution of the TTB, and instead recognize the association “as an independent and constructive partner in addressing public health priorities for the benefit of the Turkish population.”
Despite pressures, the TTB remains determined to protect the right to health in Turkey. “The TTB, together with our returning President Dr Şebnem Korur Fincancı, drawing strength from the history and traditions of our professional organization, will play its role at the turning point that stands in front of our country. We will fight so that the TTB and our country do not surrender to the darkness. Physicians will not be silenced, TTB cannot be silenced!” said Dr. Ali İhsan Ökten (TTB) in a statement just after the sentencing of Dr. Fincancı.
People’s Health Dispatch is a fortnightly bulletin published by the People’s Health Movement and Peoples Dispatch. For more articles and subscription to People’s Health Dispatch, click here.