Physician Selim Ölçer, a lifetime devotee to the struggle for the right to health, labor, peace and democracy, was tried on the charge of “knowingly and willingly aiding a terrorist organization” on the grounds that he was one of the directors of the Sarmaşık Association, which was closed with the Decree-Law (KHK) in 2016. He was sentenced to 2 years and 1 month in prison.
Selim Ölçer, who has been fighting for human rights throughout his professional life, was born in Diyarbakır in 1948. He completed primary and secondary school in Silvan and high school in Ankara Atatürk High School. He graduated from Ankara University Faculty of Medicine in 1972. He completed his otolaryngology residency at Ankara Numune Hospital between 1977 and 1980. Later, he served as chief intern and assistant chief in the same clinic.
Ölçer, who is among the founders of the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey (TİHV), served as a member of the board of directors at different periods and as the Secretary General between 2000-2003. He is also a member of the Human Rights Association (İHD). He was the chairperson of the Ankara Medical Chamber and the Central Council of the Turkish Medical Association (TTB) between 1990-95.
He continued his duty as the Chairperson of the Board of Trustees of the Mesopotamia Foundation, which started its activities in 2013, with the goal of establishing a university to provide education in Kurdish, Turkish, English, and other regional languages.
He was among the founders of Sarmaşık Association for Combating Poverty and Sustainable Development, whose short name is Sarmaşık Association. The aim of the association, which was formed by 32 founders from the Metropolitan Municipality, non-governmental organizations, political party representatives and professional unions in Diyarbakır in April 2006, was to conduct research on poverty. Due to the exacerbated conditions in the city, Sarmaşık Association mostly carried out solidarity activities with the poor. Sarmaşık was among the associations whose doors were sealed with the Decree Law (K) No. 677 on November 22, 2016.
Sarmaşık was one of the organizations whose closure received the most reaction. 5 thousand 400 families faced the danger of starvation. An investigation was launched against the founding members and lawsuits were filed. Selim Ölçer was also tried at Diyarbakır 9th High Criminal Court for “knowingly and willingly aiding a terrorist organization” due to his membership in the board of directors. In the case, Ölçer’s association activities were linked to terrorism.
In his defense, Ölçer said, “My family raised me to help people in need. The association helped people with the food bank it established. It is unfortunate that this is associated with terrorism. I am a physician. I did not ask for the personal information of the people I treated throughout my life, I stayed away from the fight. I am a 74-year-old person, I took care of this region as a student.”
The Tribunal was convened on October 11, 2021. Dr. Selim Ölçer was sentenced to 2 years and 1 month in prison on the charge of knowingly and willingly aiding the organization even though he was not included in the hierarchical structure of the organization. The decision will go to the court of appeal.
TTB Central Council and TİHV each made a press statement reacting to the sentence. The statement of TTB read: “It is unacceptable to criminalize an association established to solve the problems related to poverty in Diyarbakir and carry out humanitarian aid activities, and to punish one of its founders, Dr. M. Selim Ölçer. Fighting against poverty, which is one of the factors that cause ill health, is not a crime, it is a requirement of our profession.”
TİHV, on the other hand, underlined that Ölçer is a very good physician and a pure human rights defender, and their statement read: “Our dear Selim Ölçer has been working on the treatment and rehabilitation of people who have been subjected to torture and other ill-treatment for many years, based on universal values, through peaceful methods. He is a human rights defender whose work has been recognized by the national and international public. In fact, this sentence is nothing but a new example of the efforts to suppress human rights defenders in this country.”