‘My medical opinion has been criminalized,’ says prominent doctor and human rights activist at first trial hearing

A protester holds a placard of Turkey's Medical Association President Şebnem Korur Fincancı, reading "We want freedom for Şebnem" ahead of a press release on December 23, 2022, in front of Istanbul's courthouse during the trial of Şebnem Korur Fincanci, detained over chemical arms comment and "terrorist propaganda" charges. OZAN KOSE / AFP

Dr. Şebnem Korur Fincancı, head of the Turkish Medical Association as well as an expert in forensic medicine and a prominent human rights defender, said at the first hearing of her trial that she is being prosecuted due to the criminalization of her medical opinion, Turkish Minute reported.

Fincancı, 63, has been in pretrial detention since Oct. 26 due to her remarks calling for an investigation into claims of the alleged use of chemical weapons by the Turkish military against militants of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in northern Iraq.

“My medical opinion has been criminalized. If there is a crime in question, there is also the effort to cover up that crime. The crimes committed by a state are investigated by independent bodies,” said Fincancı in her defense at the İstanbul 24th High Criminal Court at the İstanbul Courthouse in Çağlayan.

She entered the packed courtroom holding up a defiant fist, while her supporters applauded and dozens of anti-riot police looked on, Agence France-Presse reported.

Fincancı said that after examining videos of PKK militants, she expressed her preliminary assessment and said some militants looked like they had been the victims of chemical weapons, with foam coming out of their mouths.

“I talked about the need for an investigation. I exercised my freedom of expression and scientific freedom,” said Fincancı.

The doctor faces charges of disseminating terrorist propaganda in her remarks, which calls for a sentence of seven-and-a-half years in prison.

The Turkish government has strongly denied the allegations about the military’s use of chemical weapons, and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan accused Fincancı of “speaking the language of terrorism.”

Fincancı once again called for “an effective investigation” including on-the-ground inspections and autopsies of the militants of the PKK, listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey and much of the international community.

“As a human rights defender, I have a responsibility to defend freedom of expression and the public’s right to information,” she told the court.

She also complained that she was brought to the İstanbul Courthouse from Sincan Prison in Ankara and that she was handcuffed during the trip, which lasted more than five hours, in a prisoner transport vehicle.

Fincancı called the situation a “violation of human dignity,” saying it was impossible for her to pose a security risk with her pen as her “only weapon.”

The PKK said 17 of its militants had died in chemical weapons attacks in the mountains and caves of northern Iraq.

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch issued a joint call with five other organizations for Fincancı’s release pending trial.

“Korur Fincanci is a distinguished expert on the documentation of torture,” they said in a joint statement.

“Her work should be lauded, not punished,” the World Medical Association’s German chairman Frank Ulrich Montgomery said in the statement.

But the chief prosecutor argued in court Friday that Fincancı “actively participated in propaganda activities of the PKK” and demanded she remain in custody pending trial.

The court ruled for the continuation of the doctor’s incarceration and adjourned the trial until Dec. 29.

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