On October 14, 2020, President Erdoğan attacked the Turkish Medical Association (Türk Tabipler Birliği – TTB) and its news Chair, Prof. Şebnem Korur-Finacancı, referring to her as “someone from a terrorist organisation.” The Netherlands Helsinki Committee condemns this attack on forensic phyiscian and prominent human rights defender Prof. Şebnem Korur-Finacancı, and on the Association she has come to represent.
Prof. Şebnem Korur-Finacancı was elected the new Chair of the TTB Central Committee in early October 2020. She is also the Chair of the Turkey Human Rights Foundation (Türkiye İnsan Hakları Vakfı – TİHV) and is widely known for her courageous work in countering torture. She has been subject to criminal prosecution for taking part in the Editors-on-Watch Solidarity Campaign, facing charges for “making propoganda for a terrorist organisation.” She was acquitted; the prosecution appealed the case. She was also prosecuted on the same charge for signing the peace petition “We will not be a party to this crime!” (Bu suça ortak olmayacağız!), and also in this case she was acquitted when the Constitutional Court found that being prosecuted for signing a petition calling for peace violates the freedom of expression.
Targeting human rights defender Prof. Şebnem Korur-Fincancı is a part of continious harrassment of TTB, which is known for its critical stance towards the government. The previous Central Committee members were convicted to 20 months in prison for “inciting the public to hatred or enmity”—a persecution as a result of the Committee condemning Turkey’s military operation in Afrin, Syria, and stating that “War is a matter of public health.” Last month, the Association was also attacked by the Chair of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP)—an ally of the President—for disputing the official figures on the size of the pandemic. In turn, the Chair of the MHP on numerous occasions called on authorities to close TTB for allegedly “praising terrorism,” and to take legal actions against its executives.
Monitoring the situation of health workers and disseminating information that contradicts with that shared by the government does not constitute an act of terrorism. As human rights defenders, Prof. Şebnem Korur-Financı, and TBB have the right to monitor, document and report on their observations with regards to the right to access to healthcare and peacefully advocate against rights violations. Auditing the actions of a state and criticising shortcomings or mistakes is an important part of any democratic society and is more necessary than ever during the pandemic.