ResourcesPress Release

PHR: Acquittal of Turkish Physician Human Rights Defender Welcome and Overdue

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) welcomes a Turkish court’s acquittal today of Dr. Şebnem Korur Fincancı, a prominent human rights defender, anti-torture advocate, and the president of the Human Rights Foundation of Türkiye, who in 2016 was arrested, briefly imprisoned, and charged with disseminating “terrorist propaganda” after taking part in a solidarity campaign with a newspaper critical of Türkiye’s government.

“Dr. Fincancı, a world-renowned forensic medical expert, should never have been charged in the first place,” said Donna McKay, PHR’s executive director. “She has dedicated much of her life to fighting torture and ill-treatment in Türkiye and around the world, and was targeted for peacefully defending human rights and practicing the right to free expression. The Turkish court’s acquittal of Dr. Fincancı today is an important step forward in a country that has sought to silence those who stand up for human rights in opposition to the government. This progress gives us hope for the respect for freedom of expression and speech in Türkiye going forward.”

Separately, in December 2018, Fincancı was sentenced to two years and six months in prison for signing a peace petition in 2016 organized by a group of Turkish academics. She was one of the signatories of “We will not be party to this crime,” signed by a group who call themselves “Academics for Peace.” The petition spoke out against violence between the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party and Turkish security forces in the southeast of Türkiye, and called for a peaceful solution. It also criticized the disproportionately heavy hand of Turkish security forces, which resulted in the bombardment of predominantly Kurdish cities as well as the enforcement of curfews. Appeals in this case are ongoing.

And in May of this year, leaders of the Turkish Medical Association were sentenced to imprisonment for releasing a statement calling war a “matter of public health.” That case is still under appeal, and those doctors remain at risk of imprisonment.

McKay added, “While Dr. Fincancı’s acquittal is welcome news, she and many other physicians remain under threat of conviction and imprisonment simply for exercising their right to freedom of expression. PHR calls on the Turkish government to drop these outstanding charges and cease persecution of the medical profession.”

PHR honored Dr. Fincancı at its 2017 gala in New York City for her leadership in fighting torture and impunity for human rights violations in Türkiye and around the world. 

After she was sentenced in 2018 in the Academics for Peace case, PHR sent a letter to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan expressing grave concern for the Turkish court’s punishment of Fincancı and thousands of other peaceful protesters “for speaking out in favor of fairness, justice, and respect for human rights.”

Additional PHR resources:

  • Issues: Persecution in Türkiye – Dr. Şebnem Korur Fincancı
  • Editorial by PHR board member Michele Heisler in The BMJ: War is a Global Threat to Public Health, published June 6, 2019
  • Press release: PHR Letter to Turkish President Demands Charges Be Dropped Against Physician Human Rights Defenders, December 21, 2018
  • PHR’s letter to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, December 20, 2018
  • Press release: Turkish Court Sentences Dr. Şebnem Korur Fincancı to Prison on False Charges, December 19, 2018
  • Video: PHR Honors Dr. Şebnem Korur Fincancı
  • Blog: Human Rights on Trial in Türkiye, November 21, 2016

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.

Get Updates from PHR