Turkish Medical Association confronts new wave of attacks

The board of the Turkish Medical Association was dissolved by a court decision. This is the latest in a long list of repressive acts faced by the organization

December 07, 2023 by Peoples Health Dispatch
Members of the Istanbul chapter of Turkish Medical Association during a press conference following the court decision to dissolve TTB Central Council, December 2023

An Ankara court dissolved the Central Council of the Turkish Medical Association (TTB) at the end of November. The court’s decision is the latest in a long line of attacks against the organization, which is internationally recognized for its dedication to the right to health and protection of democracy.

The court ruled that a board of trustees would be appointed to oversee the election of a new Central Council. However, while the appeal process is not finalized, the elected members of the coordinating body of TTB will continue their work. They have been using the time to rally support among other local professional organizations and international networks, warning about the implications of government interference in the work of professional associations on democratic processes in Turkey.

“The decision to dismiss the Central Council of the TTB, which was elected by its members, targets not only the TTB, but also the democratic organizations of our country and the struggle for democracy,” the association said in a statement published shortly after the court decision was announced.

Read more: Critical public health experts face rising maltreatment and corporate intrusion

Over the years, TTB has taken a critical stance towards the Erdoğan government, which has led to a crackdown on its activities. In late 2022, TTB president Şebnem Korur Fincancı was arrested on charges of spreading terrorist propaganda after she called for an independent inquiry into the alleged use of chemical weapons by the Turkish army against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party in northern Iraq.

The organization was also at the forefront of the response to the earthquake that hit Turkey and Syria in February this year, organizing volunteer services as the ministry lagged behind. Members of the TBB traveled to areas hit by the earthquake, where they were confronted by thousands of casualties, among whom were at least 100 doctors.

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The medical association has also stood up to the spread of commercialization of healthcare in Turkey and its effects on health workers’ rights. On several occasions throughout 2023, the TTB raised the alarm about record high numbers of physicians applying for documents needed for emigration: more than 2,000 doctors had done so in the first half of this year alone.

Countering claims from the Ministry of Health, which accused the doctors of leaving just because they were in pursuit of high incomes, the TTB collected data that showed that the overall trend is due to years of neglect of the public health system.

The court decision was condemned by a number of international health and human rights organizations, including Physicians for Human Rights. In a statement co-signed with other associations that had previously supported TTB in their attempts to stand up against repression, they said the court ruling was “unprecedented in the Association’s 70-year history.”

“Such judicial interference in the work of medical doctors is not only unlawful and unethical; it is also reckless. The ruling to dismiss the TTB leadership risks thousands of people’s access to ethical health care,” Physicians for Human Rights and co-signatories said.

The crackdown on TTB also led to mass solidarity inside Turkey, with 135 organizations signing a statement in support of the association. “The attack is not only on the TTB but also on the public’s right to health, the right to organize, and the right to live in peace in a democratic country,” the co-signatories stated.

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