For Immediate Release
Today in Ankara, pro-government groups, including a union of health professionals and a trade union, held a press conference denouncing the Turkish Medical Association (TMA) and calling on the government to file charges against the organization. This follows two days of threats of physical violence to TMA staff, some of them identified as coming from a government-recognized civilian militia group known as Halk Özel Harekatı (HÖH). Turkish police have taken three members of the TMA into custody without charge.
The campaign began after the TMA issued a statement on January 24 decrying war as a threat to public health. Subsequently, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan made a speech calling the TMA “terrorist lovers” and disparaging its anti-war stance. Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), a longtime partner of the TMA, said these threats must stop and called them 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.
“It is a bleak commentary on the state of affairs in Turkey that a group of doctors can’t make a peaceful statement without being targeted with physical threats and condemned by the head of state,” said PHR’s director of programs, Dr. Homer Venters. “Medical professionals must have the freedom to call out threats to public health without fear of retribution.”
This harassment is part of a wider Turkish government crackdown on civil society and political opposition, including against groups of medical professionals. Amidst a deterioration in the rule of law, the government is failing in its obligation to ensure the right to freedom of expression for groups like the TMA, and to prevent incitement to violence by entities like the trade and health professional unions, which are aligned with the political majority opinion supporting the ruling AKP party and President Erdoğan. Dr. Serdar Küni, a member of the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey, was convicted in 2017 for treating alleged members of anti-government Kurdish armed groups, and a leading forensic doctor, Dr. Şebnem Korur Fincancı, was charged with disseminating “terrorist propaganda” after guest-editing a newspaper critical of the government.
TMA staff reported that they believe their physical safety is compromised.
“At no point has the TMA done anything other than advocate for peace and human rights principles,” said Christine Mehta, PHR researcher. “Crushing dissent – and even public discourse – has become the norm in Turkey, and now this extends to peaceful statements by a respected medical association.”
PHR calls on the Turkish police and authorities to immediately release TMA staff held in police custody, uphold the rule of law, assure the safety of our colleagues, and fulfill their human rights obligation to counter incitement to violence and hold those responsible to account.
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.