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PHR Calls for Release of Imprisoned Turkish Medical Professionals

For Immediate Release

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) strongly condemned the arrest on Tuesday of the leaders of the Turkish Medical Association (TMA) and called for their immediate release. The unprecedented move by Turkish authorities to silence and intimidate the TMA followed days of threats and protests over the group's statement criticizing war as a public health threat.

"It's hard to believe that it's come to this. The Turkish government’s dismantling of civil society now extends to locking up doctors who advocate for basic public health principles," said  Homer Venters, MD, director of programs at PHR. "Medical professionals must have the freedom to call out threats to public health without fear of retribution."

The arrests came after the TMA issued a statement on January 24 decrying war as a threat to public health. Subsequently, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan made a speech calling the TMA “terrorist lovers” and disparaging its anti-war stance. After pro-government unions called for charges against the TMA, the head prosecutor in Ankara yesterday filed a criminal complaint against the organization. In addition, another lawsuit was filed against the TMA’s leaders, demanding that they be dismissed from their positions on the grounds that they are acting beyond the scope of the organization’s mission.

PHR, a longtime partner of the TMA, called for the immediate release of the TMA members and said the harassment was a blatant attempt to intimidate a credible civil society group. The TMA is an internationally respected organization, and is the Turkish affiliate of the World Medical Association.

"We have worked for years with the TMA, the largest association of doctors in Turkey, and value them as professional partners in promoting public health and human rights,” said Dr. Venters. “Efforts to intimidate and silence them are outrageous and unacceptable, especially when backed by the Turkish government.

"Turkish authorities must immediately release the arrested TMA leaders and halt the intimidation campaign against them – in the streets, in the media, and in the courts. It's also evident that the crackdown comes amid a broader assault on free expression. We call on the Turkish government to urgently move to ensure the protection of internationally recognized freedoms and rights, as ratified by Turkey."

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.