President of the Turkish Medical Association (TMA) Şebnem Korur Fincancı was detained on Wednesday, October 26, on charges of spreading terrorist propaganda. The arrest comes after Fincancı participated in a media broadcast linked to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) on alleged use of chemical weapons by the Turkish army against the PKK in northern Iraq.
During the broadcast, she said that international law mandates an independent investigation into the events. State organs chose to interpret the statement as siding with the PKK, which the Turkish state classifies as a terrorist organization. Dr. Fincancı was also dismissed from the post of president of the TMA and it was announced that new leadership would be appointed to the association.
Dr Fincancı is a forensic expert with decades of experience in anti-torture work. Among other things, she had investigated prison deaths in Israel and the Philippines. She has been persecuted for her activism on multiple occasions, and was previously arrested in 2016 for supporting a freedom of the press campaign.
Turkish Medical Association under attack
The TMA and its president were attacked in the media in the days preceding the arrest, including by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Erdoğan stated the government was determined to accelerate the introduction of new structures in professional organizations, particularly the TMA.
The offensive against the TMA included calls for the organization to be shut down and Dr Fincancı to be stripped of her passport. This was a measure taken against many activists and academics in Turkey who had signed the Peace Petition in 2016.
The Peace Petition was published to warn against violence perpetrated by the Turkish state in Kurdish regions. It was signed by more than 2,000 people, including many members of the TMA. The government reacted to the petition with a smear campaign and other repressive measures. A large number of the signatories faced prison sentences, while others were forced to emigrate. Those who stayed continued to face pressure, as was the case with some members of the TMA.
The TMA boasts a long progressive tradition. Some media reports maintain that the move against Dr Fincancı and the rest of the association is an attempt by the current state administration to weaken their voice before the 2023 election.
“For a long time, the Turkish Medical Association has been steered by good cadres who have promoted the right to health and health workers’ rights. This is an important difference in comparison to other medical associations worldwide, and it is important to protect them from attempts to throw them on a different path,” said Alexis Benos from the International Association of Health Policy Europe (IAHPE) and the People’s Health Movement.