Presidents of Van-Hakkari Medical Chamber and Mardin Medical Chamber were summoned by the police to give statements regarding their interviews on the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on public health and the provinces for which they are responsible. The accusation brought against them is “causing fear and panic among the public”.
President of Van-Hakkari Medical Chamber and a member of the Psychiatric Association of Turkey (Türkiye Psikiyatri Derneği), psychiatrist Özgür Deniz Değer was summoned to give his statement regarding the interview he gave to Mezopotamya Ajansı on March 19, 2020 published under the title ‘Tek bir virüs vakası tüm cezaevini hasta eder’ (A single case can infect everyone in the prison). Değer was evaluating the precarious conditions of prisoners against the corona virus in this interview. Değer gave his statement at Van Police Department against the accusation for “causing fear and panic among the public”.
Osman Sağlam is the Co-chair of Mardin Medical Chamber, an internal medicine specialist, and an emergency physician. On March 28, 2020, he was summoned to give his statement at Mardin Provincial Police Department regarding the interviews he gave to Mezopotamya Ajansı and Gazete Duvar. Osman Sağlam criticized the inadequate level of precautions taken to manage the epidemic and the reluctance of Mardin Provincial Directorate of Health to share information regarding the epidemic. It was later revealed that the Provincial Directorate of Health had filed the complaint against him.
Özgür Deniz Değer was born in 1979 in Van. He graduated from Mersin University School of Medicine and worked as a general practitioner at Van Muradiye State Hospital. He competed his specialization at Bakırköy Ruh Sağlığı ve Sinir Hastalıkları Hastanesi. While he was working in Istanbul, he acted as the vice president of Istanbul Branch of the Psychiatric Association of Turkey. Following his service at Sivas Şarkışla State Hospital, he returned to Van in 2014 and continued to work there.
He was a member of the committee that drafted the research and evaluation report on Nusaybin, Cizre, Silopi, Van, Bitlis and Tatvan districts, jointly published in 2015 by the Turkish Medical Association (TTB), the Trade Union of Public Employees in Health and Social Services (SES), the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey (TİHV) and the Psychiatric Association of Turkey (TPD).
Değer’s public statements to this day has a focus on health and rights. He reminded the public that the rising number of suicides in Turkey is of a political and social concern as a product of the economy and politics of the country. He stated that the health facilities in Van are not prepared to respond to the corona virus. He reminded the public about the health conditions of the prisoners on hunger strike.
One of these interviews was published on March 19, 2020 on Mezopotamya Ajansı website. He was summoned to give his statement at Van Police Department regarding his statements on the coronavirus (Covid-19) epidemic, the level of preparedness and the great risk the prisoners were under due to this epidemic. He was accused of “causing fear and panic among the public”. He was not detained after his statement. Değer revealed that his statements during the aforementioned interviews were questioned at the police station and as the President of a Medical Chamber and a physician, he acted under his duty to inform the public.
Osman Sağlam has been active in Mardin Medical Chamber since 2016. He is also a member of the Trade Union of Public Employees in Health and Social Services (SES) Mardin Office. He was arrested on October 8, 2014, while trying to help those arrested during a Kobane support march. He was later released. On February 6, 2015, he was attacked by relatives of a patient at the primary care center in Ortaköy neighborhood of Artuklu district in the province of Mardin. He was among the group that publicly announced the inefficacy of the “Law on Violence Against Health [Professionals]” on November 2, 2018. Osman Sağlam represented Mardin Medical Chamber in a joint press statement issued on the “Law on Violence Against Health Professionals” by Mardin Medical Chamber, Mardin Dental Chamber and KESK Mardin Offices Platform.
On March 18, 2020, Sağlam issued his personal statement titled “Hekimler virüs teşhisi koymaya çekiniyor”(Physicians are reluctant to diagnose a case with the virus”), where he said “A physician who diagnosed a case with coronavirus was forced to take a leave of absence. The physicians are reluctant to diagnose [these cases]”. Sağlam also spoke to Gazete Duvar on March 25, 2020. In this article, he informed that 50 people were under quarantine in Mardin. He underlined “We don’t need the applause but the protective gear. We requested a meeting with the Director of Provincial Health Department. We called him on his personal phone for two days, sent him messages but to no avail. As a consequence, we have not been able to share information or take joint action.” Sağlam was summoned to Mardin Police Department to give a statement on March 28, 2020.
On March 30, 2020, the Turkish Medical Association (TTB) Central Council requested, in writing, that Medical Chamber representatives would be included in the Covid-19 Pandemic Provincial Coordination Committees and Provincial Public Health Councils.
TTB is one of the largest civil society organizations and the only health association with experience in crisis response in Turkey. TTB is deliberately left out of the crisis response mechanism by the government, further exposing government’s interest in collaborating only with the pro-government organizations and serving the similar section of the public, and interpreted as an attempt by the government to silence those critical of government’s management of the crisis.