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Turkish Court Sentences Dr. Şebnem Korur Fincancı to Prison on False Charges

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) denounces the sentencing today of Dr. Şebnem Korur Fincancı, a prominent human rights defender and the president of the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey, to two years and six months in prison for signing a peace petition in 2016 organized by a group of Turkish academics. Fincancı, a longtime PHR partner, 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 Turkey, and called for a peaceful solution. It also criticized the disproportionately heavy hand of Turkish security forces, which resulted in the bombardment of predominately Kurdish cities as well as the enforcement of curfews.

To date, at least 63 other academics, of the more than 2,200 signatories, have received prison sentences, and 542 have been charged, in connection with the petition. Dr. Fincancı’s sentence is markedly higher – a clear indication that, because of her high profile, she is being intentionally targeted for her domestic and international human rights work.

Asked to react to her sentencing, Dr. Fincancı said, “Today’s ruling casts shame on the people who are sentencing me … I, in return, in the words of Émile Zola, accuse you. I accuse you for your role in not preventing violations against us,” she told the court.

“Today’s sentencing is deeply disturbing, not only for our longtime friend and colleague, Dr. Şebnem Korur Fincancı, but for human rights advocates everywhere,” said PHR Executive Director Donna McKay. “Dr. Fincancı, an acclaimed forensic physician, has dedicated much of her life to fighting torture and ill-treatment in Turkey and around the world. We will continue to advocate for her rights and we now call for a fair and just appeals process which leads to the dropping of all these false charges,” McKay added.

Dr. Fincancı is a world-renowned expert on the documentation of torture, and collaborated with PHR in creating the Istanbul Protocol, considered the international standard for forensic investigations of torture. She was awarded the Physicians for Human Rights Award in 2017, the Hrant Dink Prize in 2014, and the Hessian Peace Prize earlier this year. She is one of thousands of peaceful protesters who are being punished in Turkey merely for speaking out in favor of fairness, justice, and respect for human rights. 

Exactly one week ago, Dr. Gençay Gürsoy, founder and former president of the Turkish Medical Association, was sentenced to two years and three months in prison on the same false charges as those laid against Dr. Fincancı in court today. And in June 2016, Dr. Fincancı and two co-defendants, Reporters Without Borders representative Erol Önderoğlu and journalist and author Ahmet Nesin, were arrested, briefly imprisoned, and charged for disseminating “terrorist propaganda” after taking part in a solidarity campaign with a newspaper critical of Turkey’s government. A delegation from PHR joined an international observation mission and solidarity rally for Dr. Fincancı, her co-defendants, and thousands of other human rights defenders and activists being persecuted by the Turkish government to call for all charges to be dropped.

“Today’s ruling is just one more example of how the Turkish authorities have been targeting human rights defenders and medical doctors in an attempt to silence them and to suppress their fundamental right to freedom of expression. We see this with Dr. Fincancı’s sentencing today, and we’ve seen it in the past with the targeting of Dr. Gürsoy and others,” McKay said.

“Dr. Fincancı and other human rights defenders like her have not committed a crime. They have done nothing but support the rights of others through their important work. Investigating impunity and advocating for the freedoms of others should be lauded, not punished. Attempting to punish them deals a blow to them personally and professionally, and is also a dangerous attack against human rights in Turkey and beyond,” McKay added.

PHR reiterates its call for all charges against Dr. Fincancı to be dropped, and for an end to the unjust targeting of dissenters in Turkey and to unfair trials and sentences by Turkish courts.

Many other international organizations, including the World Medical Association (WMA), are joining PHR in speaking out against this injustice. Read the WMA’s statement here.

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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