Two human rights activists will appear in court in eastern Van province on Thursday for allegedly violating the law on demonstrations, the Bianet news website reported.
Hüseyin Yaviç and Sevim Çiçek from the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey (TİHV) were detained by the police on October 25, 2021 while delivering a press statement in front of Van University Hospital.
The activists organized the reading of the press statement to demand better working conditions for doctors after a resident physician, Rümeysa Şen, died in a car accident two days earlier.
It was revealed that the 25-year-old doctor had just finished a 36-hour shift and her car had hit a truck parked on the side of the road. She is believed to have fallen asleep at the wheel due to exhaustion.
Health professionals said the poorly designed shift system was the cause of the young doctor’s death, which they said has resulted in burnout and distress among health workers.
The Turkish Medical Association (TTB) called on healthcare workers across the country to come together to protest inhumane working conditions the next day.
However, the Van Governor’s Office said all demonstrations and protests were banned in the city as of November 21, 2016. The ban was introduced during a state of emergency declared after a coup attempt on July 15, 2016.
Hamza Çiftçi from the Van Bar Association said that although the Turkish government ended the state of emergency in 2018, the ban on demonstrations was a clear indication that state of emergency regulations were still in effect.
“This is a clear violation of freedom of expression and the right to demonstrate,” he said. “There is no legal basis for such a ban, and the current situation is completely unconstitutional.”
Doctors and healthcare workers for months have been demanding more manageable workloads, increased security and higher pay due to the heavy workload caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. They have also protested against rising cases of physical violence against healthcare employees and soaring inflation –- registered at a two-decade high, according to official figures -– that reduce doctors’ salaries to close to the minimum wage.
While 1,405 doctors left their jobs in Turkey to work abroad in 2021, 197 more emigrated in January alone, according to Turkish Medical Association (TTB) figures. Local media reports say that thousands more are getting ready to leave if the Turkish government fails to meet their demands.
The doctors’ departures are a sad indictment of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who burnished his own reputation by expanding universal health care over his 19 years in power. But the strains of those overhauls wrought by Erdoğan, in addition to those brought by the pandemic and increasing inflation, have undermined the very professionals on whom the health system depends.