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.
On 29 September 2022, the Court of Appeal declared that the statements titled "It is very possible for us to live in equality and peace on this land" dated 1 September 2016 and "War is a Matter of Public Health" dated 24 January 2018, were not a crime. In the decision of the Court of Appeal, it was emphasized that "not every criticism of war policies shall directly mean "provoking the people to hatred and hostility" and "propagandizing for a terrorist organization". In the decision, which also includes the jurisprudence of the Supreme Court and the Constitutional Court regarding the alleged crimes in the case, it was unanimously decided to acquit the former Central Council members of the TTB.
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.
When the TTB's statements about the pandemic after March 2020 and the numbers of cases and deaths did not show parallelism with the government's practices and claims, the union was almost turned into a fixed target. Şebnem Korur Fincancı, who was elected as the TTB Presidency in October 2020, was also the target of attacks. The Turkish Armed Forces launched an operation called Pençe-Kartal 2 on February 10, 2021, in the Gare region in Northern Iraq. On February 13, 2021, 13 civilians held captive by the PKK for nearly five years were killed during the operation. TTB shared a condolence message regarding the civilians who lost their lives. Since the PKK organization was not condemned in the message, they were once again placed at the target of attacks. Media close to the government accused the TTB and its President, Şebnem Korur Fincancı, of supporting terrorism and pointed them as targets. Physicians announced an action program led by TTB on October 11, 2021. In February and March, they carried out "White Duty(Ö)rev" actions with demands such as improving their rights, ending violence in health, considering covid-19 an occupational disease, ending the transformation in health. It was emphasized that many young physicians went abroad due to severe conditions. This wave of strikes made the TTB a target once again. Before the March 14 Medicine Day, President Erdoğan said, "If they are going, let them go... Do not worry, these places will not be empty." On March 15, 2022, MHP Chairman Devlet Bahceli made a statement and said, "The Turkish Medical Association now says that 'Our doctors are leaving Turkey'. Every physician who loves her/his homeland is on duty. If there is anyone who needs to leave this country, it is a handful of separatists and anti-Turkey people under the management of the TTB. Whether they go or not, they have no return."
In October 2022, Şebnem Korur Fincancı said in a TV program she attended that accourding to the footages of Fırat News Agency showing the last moments of the killed PKK members, she thought that chemical gas was used targeting the nervous system. Fincancı called for independent committees to conduct an investigation. As of October 20, 2022, a smear campaign was launched against Fincancı from pro-government media outlets. He was accused and targeted for slandering the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK), making terrorist propaganda and lying. On the same day, Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor's Office launched an investigation against Fincancı on charges of "making propaganda for a terrorist organization" and "insulting the Turkish nation, the State of the Republic of Turkey, the institutions and organs of the state".
On October 24, 2022, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan targeted Fincancı and the TTB in the press statement he made after the cabinet meeting, "The judiciary regarding the President of the Turkish Medical Association has taken action. Steps will be taken regarding both this person and this institution. We have instructed that the legislative work on the transition to a new structure in professional organizations, especially the Medical Association, should be accelerated. If necessary, we will ensure that this name is changed by legal regulation," he said.
On October 25, 2022, during his party's group speech at the Grand National Assembly of Turkey, Devlet Bahçeli, Chairman of the Nationalist Movement Party, targeted Şebnem Korur Fincancı and demanded Turkish Medical Association to be closed and Fincancı stripped of her citizenship.
Fincancı was detained in Istanbul on the morning of October 26, 2022. Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor's Office made a statement on the subject and announced that she was detained on charges of 'making propaganda for a terrorist organization'.
Fincancı was transferred to the Ankara Courthouse 3rd Criminal Judgeship of Peace with a request for arrest after the completion of the proceedings at the Ankara Security Directorate Anti-Terror Branch. Fincancı was arrested on October 27, 2022 and placed in the Sincan Closed Women's Prison.
Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor's Office has also prepared a lawsuit for the dismissal of Fincancı and the TTB central administration. The case will be heard at the Ankara 31st Civil Court.
In November 2022, TTB filed a complaint with the Press Council, following the ongoing smear campaigns and targeting in the pro-government media. In the petition, it was requested that a sanction decision be made for violations of principle regarding the news.
Second investigation on the charge of "membership in a terrorist organization" against Şebnem Korur Fincancı and other TTB Central Council members, who called for an investigation against the allegations that "chemical weapons were used" in Turkey's operations against the Federated Kurdistan Region, reported to have been initiated. There is a confidentiality order in the investigation.
The first hearing of the case for the dismissal of the Central Council was held on January 10, 2023, at the 31st Criminal Court of First Instance in Ankara. All procedural objections of the lawyers were dismissed without reason. The lawyers demanded a refusal of the judge, believing that the principle of equality was not applied and the court could not act impartially. The court adjourned the case to February 28, 2023, ruling that the rejection of the judge's request be forwarded to be evaluated by drafting an opinion.
On the other hand, the hearing on February 28 ended as it had started, on the grounds that the judge did not receive a decision regarding the rejection and that no examination could be made on the merits, and the case was postponed to April 6, 2023. The hearing on this date was also postponed to 22 June 2023.
At the fifth hearing on 22 June 2023, Şebnem Korur Fincancı took the floor and stated:
“It is a great honor for me to be selected as the only person to be tried by the TTB. We, as the TTB Central Council, carry out these studies. There is no other name in the file except me. As a matter of fact, I hope this will be reviewed as well. Thank you for bestowing this honor on me.”
TTB had requested refusal of the judge but the court rejected the request. TTB appealed. The court adjourned the case to 10 November 2023 to wait for the decision of the court of appeal.