Chair of Turkish Medical Association remanded in custody for “making propaganda for a terrorist organisation”

Şebnem Korur Fincancı, the chair of the Turkish Medical Association (TTB), is facing up to seven and a half years in jail if convicted of “making propaganda for a terrorist organisation”, local media reported on Friday.

A court in Ankara ordered Fincancı to be detained at the Sincan Women’s Prison after she was first arrested on 27 October following her allegations that the Turkish Army had used chemical weapons against the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).

The PKK is a terrorist organisation that is behind multiple terror attacks that has targeted and killed thousands of Turkish military personnel and civilians inside Turkiye and on its borders, in neighbouring Syria and Iraq.

The Turkish military offensive Operation Claw-Lock, launched in April of this year, seeks to eliminate these threats.

The Turkish Armed Forces strongly rebutted Fincancı’s claims, and the medic, who also chairs the Human Rights Foundation of Turkiye (TİHV), found herself facing charges instead.

She was brought from her Kadıköy home in Istanbul to the Turkish capital to face charges last month. Prosecutors have since filed new indictments against the senior medic, seeking a prison sentence of seven and a half years as punishment for her comments.

The incident occurred after some Kurdish media outlets close to the PKK had published videos that reportedly showed chemical weapons being used against PKK forces in northern Iraq.

Fincancı was being interviewed on Medya Haber TV, when she remarked about the footage and made the following statement about the use of chemical weapons in conflicts:

“Obviously, one of the toxic chemical gases that directly affects the nervous system was used. Although its use is prohibited, we see it used in conflicts,” Fincancı said.

The Turkish human rights advocate had urged independent delegations to carry out investigations into the allegations in northern Iraq.

However, her allegations were harshly rejected by not only the Turkish military, but also President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and other Turkish officials.

The fierce backlash prompted Fincancı to partially retract her words, saying she had been deliberately misquoted as the full clip of her comments showed she had not made such a claim:

“As if I said that chemicals were used. I didn’t say anything like that. I meant [the footage shows] there might be a chemical effect. I say, ‘This should be investigated.’ In other words, it is not possible to know this from the footage.”

President Erdoğan called for the TBB chair to face legal consequences for her comments, while also advocating for major reforms of Turkish professional bodies to, “get rid of the supporters of terrorist organisations.”

Devlet Bahçeli, head of Turkiye’s far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), went further in his comments Fincancı said last month. He called for her to be stripped of her citizenship, stating “Enmity to Turkish soldiers is military service to the enemy”. He also called for the TBB to be permanently closed.

Fincancı’s medical and human rights colleagues have come out in support of her, protesting that she is innocent, , and that she was not alone.

The TBB have had multiple run-ins with the Turkish government in recent years, including their dispute over official Covid figures for infections and fatalities during the height of the pandemic, which the TBB claimed were too low. The TBB was later proved to be correct after the Turkish Health Minister Fahrettin Koca came clean and stated the statistics only covered those with symptoms’, not those with infections (Turkey tops Europe’s Covid-19 table after Health Minister shamed into telling real number of cases, Nov 2020).