Turkish Medical Association (TTB) represents 88 percent of the medical physicians in Turkey. Since 2018, TTB members and executives are subjected to investigations, prosecuted, and turned into targets. 11 former executives of the TTB received prison sentences for “publicly provoking hatred or hostility in one section of the public against another section” due to their declaration entitled “War is a Matter of Public Health” concerning the Operation Olive Branch launched by the Turkish Armed Forces. TTB executives in different provinces are also being prosecuted for the statements they made during the Covid-19 pandemic. Şebnem Korur Fincancı was elected president of the Central Council in September 2020 and was targeted publicly by the President of the Republic. Honorary Board Member Şeyhmus Gökalp is facing up to 15 years in prison for his alleged ‘membership to a terrorist organization’.
TTB was founded in 1953 with the following objectives: protecting and improving public health, working towards accessible and affordable quality health care, upholding professional ethics, and protecting the rights of medical professionals and its members. The Central Council, whose areas of focus include maintaining professional discipline, investigating relatives of patients, and determining fees for private practice, is located in Ankara.
TTB has also faced pressure in the past. It was closed with the military coup of 1980, all its documents were confiscated, members of the board of directors were put on trial. When it reopened in 1984, Head of the Central Council was Prof. Dr. Nusret Fişek. The death penalty was on the agenda. TTB Central Council sent letters addressing the deputies and the President to remind that keeping people alive is the most basic ethical rule of the medical profession, and it is not right to have a physician during the execution of the death penalty. A lawsuit was filed against Fişek and members of the Central Council. They were tried with the crime of preparing a statement against the death penalty. Fişek and his colleagues were acquitted.
In 2004 Recep Akdağ, the Minister of Health of the time filed a lawsuit against Central Council President Füsun Sayek and Second President Dr. Metin Bakkalcı for allegedly insulting him. Both were acquitted.
The current wave of oppression towards TTB commenced on January 20, 2018 with “Operation Olive Branch” launched by the Turkish Armed Forces against the alleged threats to national security. As protest marches against the operation were banned, and those sharing opposing views on social media were taken into custody, TTB Central Council, made a declaration entitled “War is a Matter of Public Health” public on January 24, 2018. An investigation was rapidly launched against the members of the Council. The declaration ends with the following sentence: “No to war; peace now and everywhere! ” TTB felt the need to make a second statement underlining their “refusal of any sort of manipulation” of their initial statement as it was repeatedly brought to public attention and commented on by state officials.
On January 28, 2018, the Ministry of Interior announced that they will file a criminal complaint at Public Prosecutor’s Office the against the members of TTB Central Council members. The next day, the Public Prosecutor’s Office launched an investigation against the 11 members of the TTB Central Council.
On January 30, 2018, these 11 physicians, also members of the Central Council, were taken into custody following operations conducted in 7 cities: Prof. Dr. Mehmet Raşit Tükel, Prof. Dr. Taner Gören (İstanbul), Dr. Hande Arpat, Prof. Dr. Sinan Adıyaman, Dr. Mehmet Sezai Berber, Dr. Selma Güngör (Ankara), Dr. Bülent Nazım Yılmaz (Eskişehir), Dr. Funda Barlık Obuz (İzmir), Dr. Dursun Yaşar Ulutaş (Adana), Dr. Ayfer Horasan (Van), Dr. Şeyhmus Gökalp (Diyarbakır).
Prosecution announced that these operations were conducted within the framework of the Anti-Terror Law No. 3713 and brought a confidentiality order on the case.
Rectorate of the Istanbul University decided to suspend Prof. Dr. Raşit Tükel and Prof. Dr. Taner Gören for three months. Dr. Şeyhmus Gökalp was also removed from his office at the Central Bank of Diyarbakır (Diyarbakır Merkez Bankası).
The same day, executive members of the World Medical Association (WMA), Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), The Standing Committee of European Doctors (CPME), European Forum of Medical Associations (EFMA) and International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims (IRCT) presented a letter to the President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan calling for the immediate release of the physicians. The letter was also shared primarily with the Office of the Vice President, and the Ministries of Interior and Foreign Affairs along with other institutions.
Protests were organized and public statements were made by various professional associations and attorneys-at-law in solidarity with the physicians. Attorneys at law, who meet on a weekly basis for the “Justice Watch at the Çağlayan Court of Justice, read the TTB statement during their 44th meeting in solidarity with the detained physicians. Attorney-at-law Kemal Aytaç, who read the statement at this meeting, was taken into custody following the police raid at his house for the alleged detention warrant against him. On February 5, Kemal Aytaç was present before the court with his lawyers and released after he presented his statement. It was later discovered that the investigation about the rereading the TTB statement was extended and 14 others were under investigation for the same reason.
The Criminal Court of Peace reached a decision to release the physicians with judicial control. Prof. Dr. Sinan Adıyaman, Dr. Ayfer Horasan and Dr. Şeyhmus Gökalp were released on February 2, 2018, whereas the remaining 8 members were released on February 5, 2018.
The decision of the Rectorate of the Istanbul University to suspend Raşit Tükel and Taner Gören for three months was overturned on February 9, 2018, following their detention.
In the indictment dated October 1, 2018, the 11 physicians were accused of “spreading terrorist propaganda” (TMK 7/2) and “publicly provoking hatred or hostility in one section of the public against another section” (TCK 216/1). The first court hearing took place on December 27, 2018 at Ankara 32nd High Criminal Court. Physicians gave their statements and the prosecutor presented their opinion as to the accusations.
The third court hearing took place on May 3, 2019 where the 11 physicians and former members of the Central Council were sentenced to 10 months in prison twice for the crime of “publicly provoking hatred or hostility in one section of the public against another section”. Dr. Hande Arpat was sentenced to a year, 6 months and 22 days in prison for her social media posts which were interpreted as ‘spreading propaganda for a terrorist organization’. Dr. Şeyhmus Gökalp acquitted from the same accusation.
During the Covid-19 pandemic
Although the Covid-19 pandemic commenced in December 2019 and the first case in Turkey was reported on March 11, 2020, presidents of the chambers of medical doctors in different provinces of Turkey were called to police stations to give their statements and investigations were launched against them for the information they have shared with the public regarding the spread of the virus and public health. Presidents of Van-Hakkari Medical Chamber and Urfa Medical Chamber were accused for “causing fear and panic among the public”. Following the request of the Governorate of Bursa, an investigation was launched against the TTB Covid-19 Monitoring Group member Prof. Dr. Kayıhan Pala at Uludağ University. Pala was accused of ‘misinforming the public’. At a later stage, the investigation was terminated.
When Şebnem Korur Fidancı was elected 2020-2022 President of the Central Council of TTB at the Grand Election Congress on September 27, 2020, she found herself targeted by the government. During the AKP group meeting on October 14, 2020, Party Chair and President of the Republic Recep Tayyip Erdoğan targeted Fincancı and TTB with the following statement: “Since when those intermingled with the terrorists are chosen to lead institutions of great importance, such as TTB? Activities of such professional associations like TTB are in conflict with the constitution. We will follow a similar path for those associations as we did to establish multiple bar associations.”
On November 20, 2020, TTB Honorary Board Member Şeyhmus Gökalp was taken into custody as part of the investigation against the Democratic Society Congress (DTK). TTB released a statement calling for his release. The prosecutor transferred Gökalp to Diyarbakır 2nd Criminal Court of Peace requesting his arrestation. Gökalp was arrested on November 23, 2020 for the allegation that he was a ‘member of a terrorist organization’. Şeyhmus Gökalp is facing a sentence between 7 years and 6 months to 15 years in prison, and the first court hearing regarding his case will take place on February 10, 2021.
On January 22, 2021, a protest was held in Ankara City Hospital with the demand of improving the personal rights of healthcare workers. Ankara Medical Chamber (ATO) President Dr. Ali Karakoç and board members also attended. After the harsh intervention of the police, along with Karakoç, ATO Board Member Dr. Ayşe Uğurlu was taken into custody.