Turkey detains head of medical association on terrorism charges

Turkish police raided the home of the president of the Turkish Medical Association (TTB) in the early hours of Wednesday, detaining her for allegedly “spreading terrorist propaganda”, her lawyer and colleagues said.

The raid and detention follows a investigation launched last week after Sebnem Korur Fincanci, who has led the TTB since 2020, said allegations of the use of chemical gases in northern Iraq against militants of the banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) should make the investigated by an independent commission.

Fincanci’s lawyer, Meric Eyuboglu, said police arrived at Fincanci’s home at 6 a.m. to detain her, although her lawyers had already informed the prosecutor’s office that she would come to testify at any time. “Instead, we found the police on our doorstep,” she said. tweeted, reporting that his client was “cheerful and resilient.” Fincanci was sent to Ankara for questioning. “Our colleagues in Ankara are waiting to talk to him,” Eyuboglu said mid-afternoon. “We haven’t been able to speak to the district attorney yet either.”

The detention comes a day after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his political ally Devlet Bahceli called for a “severe sentence” for those who slander the Turkish military‘s fight against terrorism. Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) chairman Bahceli, who has a long-standing feud with the leftist TTB, told his party group on Tuesday that the association should be shut down and that Fincanci’s Turkish citizenship should be revoked. revoked.

The head of the TTB is accused of spreading terrorist propaganda and “public degradation of the Turkish nation, the Turkish republic and its institutions”, a statement from the Ankara prosecutor’s office said on Wednesday. Fincanci, a 63-year-old forensic expert, is also asked to step down as head of the association, along with the rest of the board members.

The TTB, a 70-year-old non-governmental group with 100,000 members in 65 cities, has been a harsh critic of successive governments. But it has become particularly vocal against the health policies of the Justice and Development Party government, especially on the escalation violence against doctors, poor working conditions and low wages for health professionals. Relations went further in 2019, when members of the association were put on trial for expressing their opposition to Turkey‘s military incursion into Syria. Erdogan called the members of the association traitors and demanded the removal of “Turkish” from the name of the association. Relations deteriorated further with the election of Fincanci, former president of the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey, as head of the association in 2020.

Current charges are based on Fincanci’s comments on video footage published by Medya News, a media outlet openly supportive of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), an outlawed group which has been waging an armed insurgency against the Turkish state since 1984 and which is designated as a terrorist group by Turkey, the United States and the European Union.

Fincanci later said she was speaking as a medical examiner with experience in conflict zones rather than the head of the TTB, adding that the people in the video appeared to show signs of exposure to chemical agents. . Fincanci had claimed in his interview with Medya News, “Obviously, toxic gases only directly [affect] the nervous system were used… Although these are forbidden, they are often seen used in conflicts…[Whether or not these allegations are true] should be investigated.

The Department of Defense issued a immediate refusal last Thursday, claiming that toxic agents were not part of their arsenal. “Ammunition prohibited by international law and agreements is not used by our armed forces. This type of ammunition is not in the inventory of the Turkish Armed Forces,” a statement read, describing the claims as a “futile last stand” as the PKK weakens under military operations.

Members of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) and Sezgin Tanrikulu, the Istanbul MP ​​from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), tried to put the allegations on the parliament’s agenda . However, hours after Tanrikulu expressed his intention to submit a parliamentary motion, two CHP heavyweights declared that any action that could undermine the Turkish military or demoralize it in its fight against terrorism must be avoided.

Fincanci clarified his remarks on Friday, saying that Medya News had distorted them “in a way that seemed to indicate that I was confirming that chemical agents were used… which is irresponsible reporting.

After Fincanci’s arrest, the Turkish Medical Association made a quick statement in support of their president and called for his immediate release after his statement to the prosecutor. “We will continue the fight to protect democracy, peace, independence of science and freedom of expression for scientists,” TTB Secretary General Vedat Bulut told a press conference. “We, as well as various other labor and professional organizations present here, do not accept the political lynching of Sebnem Korur Fincanci and the illegal practices to which it was subjected”.

Bulut appeared to be referring to pro-government media claims that the police search of Fincanci’s home had revealed weapons, bullets and printed matter belonging to the illegal terrorist group. Eyuboglu said the bullets belonged to Fincanci’s father, who had been in the military, and that she kept them after his death, although she surrendered her gun.

After Fincanci’s detention, HDP co-chairman Mithat Sancar paid a solidarity visit to the TTB, while the CHP and Ali Babacan’s DEVA party issued statements criticizing the arrest but distancing themselves from Fincanci’s remarks. .

“I don’t agree with what Fincanci said – and neither make a lot of people in Turkey,” Ozgur Ozel, deputy chairman of the CHP parliamentary group, said at a press conference on Wednesday. “But in a democracy you can’t detain someone just because they said something you don’t agree with. 41 minors were burned alive in Turkey last month and not a single official was On the other hand, the President of the Turkish Medical Association makes a statement and she is detained.

“Turkey’s reputation would not be shaken by Fincanci’s statement,” DEVA chief Ali Babacan said. “But the damage caused by a judicial system acting on the orders of the government is irreparable”.

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