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Prison Sentencing of Turkish Doctors for Calling War a “Public Health Problem” is an Egregious Miscarriage of Justice

Physicians for Human Rights Calls for Judgment to be Overturned

NEW YORK – Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) strongly condemned the sentencing today of the leaders of the Turkish Medical Association (TMA) and called for the court’s judgment to be overturned and the charges to be dismissed.

“This gratuitous court decision is a new low in the attacks on doctors and the practice of health care, which have now become commonplace in Turkey,” said Donna McKay, executive director of PHR. “The sentencing of doctors who have bravely spoken out on the impact of war on the wellbeing of innocent civilians is an affront to both freedom of speech and the critical role medical professionals play in highlighting situations that pose risks to public health and the delivery of health care. War has extraordinary health consequences. This unwarranted sentence is clearly intended to silence and intimidate the TMA and any medical professionals in Turkey who dare to speak out.”

The decision was delivered by the 32nd High Criminal Court in Ankara in response to the declaration by the Central Council Members of the TMA that “war is a public health problem” in a statement delivered on January 24, 2018. Subsequently, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan made a speech calling the TMA “terrorist lovers” and disparaging its anti-war stance. On January 26, 2018, three members of the TMA were arrested without charge.

After pro-government unions called for charges against the TMA, the head prosecutor in Ankara 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 acted beyond the scope of the organization’s mission.

After last year’s arrests, 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 Vincent Iacopino, MD, PhD, senior medical advisor for PHR. “Efforts to intimidate and silence Turkish doctors are outrageous and unacceptable, especially when backed by the Turkish government. We call on Turkish authorities to overturn this egregious decision and halt the intimidation campaign against doctors – in the streets, in the media, and in the courts. The Turkish government has a responsibility 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.

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