Dr. Ömer Melik, the president of Urfa Medical Association, and its secretary general, Dr. Osman Yüksekyayla, have been detained and now are facing trial based on the association’s posts on social media regarding Covid-19. All the posts mentioned in the investigation were concerned with protecting the public and health personnel in the fight with the pandemic. They are currently charged with ‘urging the public to panic and fear’.
The two executives of Urfa Medical Association were called in by the cybercrimes division to give their statements on April 27, 2020. Following their statements, they were referred to the prosecutor’s office for their posts about coronavirus shared from the association’s Twitter account. These posts were touching upon issues like the provision of the lacking protective equipment, introducing PCR testing into the city of Urfa, installing measurements for trips that agricultural laborers make to the fields, and applying the bonus payment offered to health personnel to the entire public.
From the very start of the pandemic, the Medical Association was not invited to any of the boards and committees neither those of the City Office of Health nor the Mayor’s Office. Not being allowed to have a voice in these official settings, the Medical Association resorted to make their voices heard to both the public and officials through social media. Due to the fact that they are part of a professional association, the two doctors expressed in their statements that their actions were done with careful consideration of being responsible to those who are on the forefront of the fight (namely, doctors), all health personnel, and the public. They shared with the public their assessment of the data coming from the field in order to raise awareness for the fight against the pandemic. The observations and critiques shared in the social media posts intended to help the process go smoother, healthier in a more planned fashion, and with less harm done.
Urfa Medical Association published a pandemic report on March 31, 2020. In this report, it was stated that the confirmed cases were continuing to be on the rise. On April 5, they tweeted the numbers of confirmed cases and deaths in Urfa. Upon this tweet, Ömer Melik was called in to give a statement on April 8 and was charged with, again, ‘urging the public to fear and panic’.
Leading the Urfa Medical Association for two years, Dr. Ömer Melik was born in Urfa in 1974. He’s a doctor of 20 years of experience with an expertise in pediatrics. Presently, he is working in the intensive care and newborn departments at Şanlıurfa Eğitim ve Araştırma Hastanesi (Urfa Training and Education Hospital).
In an interview he gave to Gazete Duvar, a news website, on April 13, 2020 he said: ‘That tweet was only concerned about numbers of confirmed and possible cases in Urfa and patients in intensive care and deaths. We know that the Ministry of Health already shares this data every night with the public. I have not been able to understand why it constitutes a crime to share these numbers under the name of Medical Association.’
The secretary general, Dr. Osman Yüksekyayla was born in Urfa in 1985. He’s working as an internal medicine specialist at the same hospital as Melik. From 2016 to 2018, he was the Urfa representative for the Grand Assembly of Turkish Medical Association. He’s been the secretary general for the Urfa branch since 2018.
Both doctors were released on bail following their statements on April 27, 2020. The investigation is ongoing.