In a letter issued today, four international medical and human rights organizations call on Turkish authorities to drop the baseless charges against the leadership of the Turkish Medical Association (TMA) at a time when doctors are urgently needed to tend to victims of the 6 February earthquake that have caused over 56,000 deaths in Türkiye and Syria.
On 6 April, the 11 members of the TMA’s Central Council will come before the 31st Civil Court of Law in the capital, Ankara. They risk being dismissed from their elective functions under law no. 6023 on the TMA. With over 110,000 members nationwide, the TMA is the country’s largest association of physicians.
The court case against the TMA Central Council, who constitute some of Türkiye’s most eminent medical practitioners, is the latest in a series of attacks on independent medical and other professions, the independence of which the government sees as a potential threat. Since at least 2014, the TMA has been subjected to judicial harassment, politically motivated trials, office searches, threats, and imprisonment.
The charges follow the politically motivated conviction on 11 January of one of those members, Dr. Şebnem Korur Fincancı, in a separate trial. After being held in pre-trial detention for almost three months, she was sentenced to almost three years of imprisonment on spurious charges of “making terrorist propaganda” for voicing a medical opinion that called for an independent investigation into the possible use of chemical weapons in the region. She was released on January 11 pending appeal.
“Charging our Turkish colleagues with conducting activities promoting the use of violence is not only incongruous, but also unfounded and dishonest,” said Dr. Frank Ulrich Montgomery, chair of council at the World Medical Association. “We witness the integrity and loyalty of TMA and its representatives and consider that these allegations are an insult to the entire medical profession.”
“European doctors call on the Turkish authorities to unconditionally safeguard the autonomy and independence of the Turkish Medical Association,” said Dr. Christiaan Keijzer, president of the Standing Committee of European Doctors (CPME). “The medical profession is vital for society, and the trial of its leaders is a direct threat to patients, the health care system, and the population as a whole.”
“The medical profession is under attack in Türkiye,” said Dr. Michele Heisler, medical director at Physicians for Human Rights. “Our close colleagues are being unlawfully arrested, threatened with lengthy prison sentences, and harassed simply for standing up for medical ethics, the ability to provide quality health care for their patients, and human rights. This persecution of physicians just for seeking to fulfill their professional obligations must stop now.”
“It is shocking that prosecutors are trying to hamper doctors from doing their work at a time of national emergency. After this devastating earthquake, doctors are more essential than ever and must be protected from government interference,” said Erika Dailey, PHR’s director of advocacy and policy.
The CPME, Physicians for Human Rights, Redress, and the World Medical Association call for the charges against the members of the Central Council of the TMA to be dropped and for all forms of harassment of them to cease immediately.
Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is a New York-based advocacy organization that uses science and medicine to prevent mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. Learn more here.