For decades, Physicians for Human Rights has supported the work of health care professionals in Turkey in opposing torture and other human rights violations and has acknowledged the longstanding work of the Turkish Medical Association (TMA) to defend human rights of doctors, patients, and medical ethics in Turkey and beyond.
Alongside anti-torture experts from around the world, PHR collaborated with Dr. Şebnem Korur Fincancı , president of the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey, in the creation of the Istanbul Protocol, considered the international standard for forensic investigations of torture.
Amidst a deterioration in the rule of law, the Turkish government has deepened it’s crackdown on civil society and political opposition, including intentional attacks against groups of medical professionals.
During the Gezi Park protests of May 2013, police forces deployed tear gas, water cannons, and rubber bullets against medical workers – some of whom were also detained and beaten –courageously attempting to provide emergency medical assistance to those who had been injured by police in the Gezi protests. PHR conducted a one-week investigation in Istanbul and Ankara from June 25 – July 2, 2013. During this investigation, PHR interviewed more than 50 victims and witnesses of attacks on protesters and medical personnel, as well as violations of medical neutrality.
Following the Turkish government’s unnecessary and excessive use of force and attacks on medical personnel, in July 2013, the Turkish Ministry of Health introduced a bill that criminalized certain provisions of emergency medical care. The bill was signed into law in January 2014 by President Abdullah Gül. PHR, the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to health, the World Medical Association, the British Medical Association, the German Medical Association, and other leading medical groups have all criticized the law, which could compromise everyone’s access to emergency medical care in Turkey.
Civil society has faced punishment for criticizing a government that has increasingly flouted international law and human rights norms. The Turkish government’s crackdown of civil space and consolidation of power can be typified by it’s willingness to vilify anyone who opposes its actions. Increasingly, these targets include medical professionals. This attack on medical professionals, which emerged in 2013 at the Gezi Park protests, has only but strengthened under the Erdoğan administration’s campaign of backlash to dissent and freedom of expression following the failed coup attempt in July 2016.