Turkish Medical Association chief convicted of terror attacks

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ISTANBUL (TBEN) – A court on Wednesday convicted the president of the Turkish Medical Association of spreading “propaganda by terror organizations” following a trial that human rights groups had denounced as an attempt to silence government critics.

The court in Istanbul sentenced Dr. Sebnem Korur Fincanci to nearly three years in prison, but also decided to release her from pre-trial detention while she appeals the sentence.

Fincanci, 63, was arrested in October and charged with propaganda on behalf of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). The arrest followed a media interview in which she called for an independent investigation into allegations that the Turkish military used chemical weapons against Kurdish militants in northern Iraq.

Fincanci is the latest activist to be convicted under Turkey’s broad anti-terrorism laws. A forensic expert, she has spent much of her career documenting torture and ill-treatment, and served as president of the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey.

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At her trial, Fincanci rejected allegations that she engaged in propaganda during the interview, arguing that she was expressing a professional opinion.

The allegations stemmed from an interview she gave to the pro-Kurdish Medya Haber TV outlet commenting on a video purporting to show the use of chemical weapons. She suggested that a toxic gas may have been released, but also called for an “effective investigation”.

Turkish officials strongly denied allegations that the country used chemical weapons, claiming that the military has no such weapons in its inventory. The PKK has been leading an armed uprising against the Turkish state since 1984. The group is considered a terrorist organization in Turkey, Europe and the United States.

Her comments caused a backlash from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan who accused her of defaming the Turkish armed forces and insulting her country “by speaking the language of the terrorist organization”.

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He vowed to take measures to exonerate the Turkish Medical Association and other professional organizations from “supporters of the terrorist organization”. In October, the Justice Minister said they were working on new regulations.

Devlet Bahceli, the leader of a nationalist party affiliated with Erdogan’s ruling party, went further and demanded that she be stripped of Turkish citizenship and that the association be shut down.

The association, which has about 110,000 members across Turkey, had drawn the ire of government officials for questioning government data and criticizing some measures imposed during the Covid-19 pandemic.

In her latest trial statements, Fincanci said the association was the actual target of the investigation, according to the Dokuz8haber website, which oversaw the trial. She said freedom of speech and science were undermined.

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A delegation from the European Union observed the trial on Wednesday, along with human rights groups and supporters, in a packed courtroom.

Before the hearing, Dr. Ole Johan Bakke of the Standing Committee of European Physicians said the group was “deeply concerned about the ongoing harassment of the Turkish Medical Association by the Turkish government and authorities”.

The World Medical Association has described the case against Fincanci as “unfounded, illegal and unacceptable” and called for her immediate acquittal.

Istanbul court sentenced to two years, eight months and 15 days in prison. She is expected to appeal the ruling.

Other leading civil society figures and dozens of journalists are imprisoned in Turkey. Terror propaganda laws have also been used to crack down on pro-Kurdish politicians and activists.

Fraser reported from Ankara, Turkey. Zeynep Bilginsoy contributed from Istanbul.