Gökalp, former Member of the Turkish Medical Association Central Council, is a physician and a human rights advocate. He has worked in Diyarbakır Medical Assocation’s commissions on human rights, workers’ health and occupational diseases. He worked as a volunteer physician at Human Rights Association in Turkey to document torture cases.
On 30 January 2018, Şeyhmus Gökalp was detained, together with the other members of the Turkish Medical Association Central Council. This happened after the release of a joint statement on 24 January 2018, condeming Turkey’s military operation in Afrin, Syria. The Council members stated that armed violence was “a matter of public health”. Gökalp was charged with “making propaganda for a terrorist organisation” and “inciting the public to hatred or hostility”. On 2 February 2018, he was released on probation but is facing two to six years in prison. As a result of his detention, he was dismissed from his position at Diyarbakır Central Bank where he worked on staff health.
All members of the Central Council, including Gökalp, are being prosecuted for their statement. The first hearing of the case took place on 27 December 2018.
On 3 May 2019, the eleven previous Central Council members, including Dr Şeyhmus Gökalp, were sentenced to 20 months of imprisonment for ‘inciting the public to hatred or hostility.
Information on the other Council members
Besides Şeyhmus Gökalp, two of the other members, Vice President Dr. Sinan Adıyaman and and Dr. Ayfer Horasan were also released on probation on 2 February 2018. As for the rest, President Dr. Raşit Tükel, General Secretary Dr. Sezai Berber, Dr. Hande Arpat, Dr. Selma Güngör, Dr. Funda Obuz, Dr. Yaşar Ulutaş, Dr. Bülent Nazım Yılmaz and Dr. Taner Gören were all released on probation following their deposition at the prosecutor’s office on 4 February 2018.
TURKISH MEDICAL ASSOCIATION (TTB)
On 28 January 2018, the Ministry of Interior Affairs announced that it would file a criminal complaint against members of the Central Council of the Turkish Medical Association (TTB), to the Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office in Ankara. The Prosecutor’s Office launched an investigation. On 30 January 2018, eleven physicians, all members of the Central Council, were taken into custody.
The prosecutor’s office announced that the operation was launched in line with the Anti-Terrorism Law No. 3713 and a confidentiality order has been imposed on the case; neither the physicians nor their lawyers knew what the accusation or evidence against them was.
The following physicians were detained: Dr. Mehmet Raşit Tükel, Dr. Taner Gören (Istanbul), Dr. Hande Arpat, Dr. Sinan Adıyaman, Dr. Mehmet Sezai Berber, Dr. Selma Güngör (Ankara), Dr. Bülent Nazım Yılmaz (Eskişehir), Dr. Funda Barlık Obuz (Izmir), Dr. Dursun Yaşar Ulutaş (Adana), Dr. Ayfer Horasan (Van) and Dr. Şeyhmus Gökalp (Diyarbakır).
What led to the detentions?
On 20 January 2018, the Turkish Armed Forces launched the military intervention ‘Operation Olive Branch’, claiming that the national security was under threat. The next day, the Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office stated that Social Media posts on the operation would be monitored. In other words, dissident views on the operation were going to be censored. Demonstrations against the operation were subsequently banned and people who voiced their criticism against the operation on Social Media were detained.
On 24 January 2018, the Central Council of the Turkish Medical Association (TTB) issued a declaration stating that War is a Public Health Problem. It ended with the message: ‘No to war; peace now and everywhere’. The statement became subject to an investigation by the government and public officials openly made defamatory comments about it. In response to this, TTB decided to make a second statement that they rejected any distortions to their declaration.
Solidarity from national and international institutions
On 30 January, a letter was sent to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan asking for the immedate release of the physicians. It was a joint action by the World Medical Association (WMA), the Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), the Standing Committee for European Doctors (CPME), the European Forum of Medical Associations (EFMA) and the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims (IRCT). The letter was also sent to the Office of the Prime Minister of Turkey, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Internal Affairs.
Lawyers and professional associations held demonstrations and released joint statements to show their support to the detained physicians. At the 44th weekly meeting of the “Justice Watch” at the Çağlayan Courthouse, lawyers read TTB’s statement and protested against the detentions. In the meeting, the statement was read by lawyer Kemal Aytaç who was taken into custody as as result, and released on 5 February. The scope of the investigation was later extended to investigate another fourteen people who had read out the same statement.
What happened after the detentions
On 2 February 2018, Dr. Sinan Adıyaman, Dr. Ayfer Horasan and Dr. Şeyhmus Gökalp were released on probation by the Criminal court, having to report to the police every month. On 5 February 2018 the remaining eight council members were released under the same condition.
After the detentions, the rectorate of Istanbul University discharged Dr. Raşit Tükel and Dr. Taner Gören from their positions for a period of three months. After their release, on 9 February 2018, this decision was cancelled. Dr. Şeyhmus Gökalp was dismissed from his position at the Diyarbakır Central Bank where he worked on staff health.
An indictment was finally issued on 1 October 2018, charging the eleven physicians with “spreading propaganda for a terrorist organisation” (Article 7/2 of the Turkish Anti-Terrorism Law) and “inciting the public to hatred or hostility” (Article 216/1 of the Turkish Criminal Code). The group is facing varying prison sentences.
The first hearing was held on 27 December 2018 at the Ankara 32nd Criminal Court, during which the physicians made their statements.
On the 3rd hearing held on 3 May 2019, the Court sentenced 11 former Central Council to 20 months in prison for “inciting the public to hatred or hostility.” Apart from this, concerning the social media posts which she shared in 2014, Dr. Hande Arpat sentenced to extra 1 year 6 months 22 days in prison for “making propaganda for a terrorist organization” . Dr. Şeyhmus Gökalp was acquitted of the same accusation.