Outrage as Ankara court orders dismissal of Turkish Medical Association board amid chemical weapons furore

Outrage as Ankara court orders dismissal of Turkish Medical Association board amid chemical weapons furore
TTB president Fincanci called for a probe after Kurdish militants claimed the Turkish armed forces attacked them with chemical weapons. / evrensel, cc-by-sa 3.0
By bne IntelIiNews December 4, 2023

An Ankara court ruling ordering the dismissal of the board of the association that represents Turkey's doctors has sparked uproar among human rights groups, the opposition and international medical organisations.

The decision to remove the Turkish Medical Association (TTB) board members was taken in response to TTB president Sebnem Korur Fincanci’s call last year for an investigation into claims of chemical weapon use by the Turkish armed forces against Kurdish militants. Fincanci—also a forensic sciences professor and well-known human rights activist—was in January given a prison sentence of towards three years for spreading terrorist propaganda, though she was freed on account of the five months she had already spent in jail.

In October 2022, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), outlawed in Turkey as an insurgent terrorist organisation, released video footage that it said showed Turkish troops releasing a substance into a cave, as well as its effects on a male fighter and a female fighter. The group also gave the details of 17 of its members whom, it said, had lost their lives to chemical weapons.

The decision to act against the TTB board, issued on November 30, comes at a time when Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan stands accused of exploiting a judicial crisis—in which Turkey’s top appeals court has made a criminal complaint against Constitutional Court judges, following their ruling that a parliamentarian should be released from prison—in “an attempt … to overhaul the constitutional order”.

“This is the first time since the 1980 coup d’etat that a professional union is being dismissed. This is concerning because it might set a precedent for other professional organisations, such as bar associations,” the Media and Law Studies Association, MLSA, said in a statement on December 1.

TTB itself responded with defiance to the court order, saying: “Do not touch the TTB. We are doing our duty.”

It added: “The lawlessness regime, which was intended to be dominated by political power, has yielded another fruit; In the case of targeting the Turkish Medical Association, the series of unlawful acts that has been going on for a year has resulted in the dismissal of the members of the Executive Council.”

A court-appointed five-member board of trustees is to oversee the election of a new TTB executive council. However, the current board will stay in post at least until an appeals court reviews the Ankara court’s decision for dismissal.

“World Medical Association, WMA, continues to support TTB.  Nothing has changed for TTB from yesterday to today. The Central Council will remain in office until the decision is finalised on appeal. If there is no equality, no freedom, no democracy, no justice, no health; struggle is a right!” WMA said in a statement posted on social media platform X.

“European doctors call on the Turkish authorities to unconditionally safeguard the autonomy and independence of the Turkish Medical Association,” Christiaan Keijzer, president of the Standing Committee of European Doctors, CPME, said in a written statement, cited by BalkanInsight.

“The decision made by political institutions was finalized by the judiciary. We know that this decision is a political decision, not a legal one. The TTB is the professional organisation of [Turkey’s] physicians,” the Human Rights Association of Turkey, IHD, wrote on X.

Ozgur Ozel, the lately elected new leader of Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), said the court decision was unlawful.

“The decision to dismiss the members of the TTB Executive Council is against the law …We will continue to defend the law and stand by the elected bodies of the TTB,” Ozel said.

BalkanInsight named Fincanci as one of its Heroes of 2022 due to her consistent struggle for justice and human rights.