Turkish gov’t detains 11 doctors, TTB central council members, over their remarks on Afrin intervention

Turkish government has detained 11 members of the Turkish Medical Association’s (TTB) central council, including TTB head Raşit Tükel, on Tuesday for their statement criticizing the Turkish military’s operation in the Syrian province of Afrin.

The detention came after the detention warrants issued by the Ankara Chief Prosecutor’s Office for the 11 members of the TTB council early on Tuesday. The prosecutor has stated that Ankara police had started legal proceedings on Tuesday morning and search-and-detention operations were going on in eight provinces across Turkey.

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) deputy Ali Şeker has announced the detention warrants via his Twitter account. Şeker and another CHP deputy, Niyazi Nefi Kara, has issued a statement of support for the doctors’ group after the detentions, saying that NGOs and intellectuals who opposed the war were not alone.

World Medical Association (WMA) has condemned the operation launched against TTB Central Council members on Tuesday and stated that “The WMA fully supports our Turkish colleagues in their public statements that war is a public health problem. The WMA has clear policy that physicians and national medical associations should alert governments to the human consequence of warfare and armed conflicts.”

“The Turkish Medical Association has a duty to support human rights and peace and we are alarmed about the latest arrests and the criminal complaint. We strongly denounce these attacks on freedom of expression, which is enshrined in article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights that Turkey ratified in 2003,” reminded the statement of WMA.

“We call on the Turkish authorities to immediately release the physician leaders and to end the campaign of intimidation. We urge national medical associations around the world to advocate for the full respect of Turkey’s humanitarian and human rights obligations, including the right to health, freedom of association and expression,” said WMA.

Also on Tuesday, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Nils Muiznieks has condemned the detention of 11 members of the TTB’s central council for a statement criticizing Turkey’s military operation in the Afrin region of Syria. “The contents of the Jan, 24 statement of the Turkish Medical Association calling for peace are clearly covered by freedom of expression. Their targeting and today’s arrests are unacceptable,” Muiznieks tweeted.

“Whenever President Erdoğan calls someone ‘terrorist, spy, traitor,’ prosecutors and courts receive his speech as an order. The latest victims of this routine are 11 members of the Turkish Medical Association Central Council who were detained this morning,” human rights lawyer Kerem Altıparmak tweeted on Tuesday.

Reacting to the detentions, CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu accused the government of trying to “silence the association.”

Meanwhile, Turkish Health Minister Ahmet Demircan has claimed that the TTB doesn’t respect the medical community with its declaration. “This shouldn’t be perceived as a simple statement about the attack that the people are facing. There is a legal responsibility of releasing such a declaration. Turkey is governed by rule of law. Beyond this point is a legal process. Medical Association is not at a point where it represents Turkish medics. It is unacceptable for an association whose name starts with ‘Turkish’ to such a thing for an attack that Turkey is facing.”

The decision to investigate came after Turkish autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan lambasted central council members of the TBB for their statement criticizing the Afrin operation. Following Erdoğan’s speech, the Interior Ministry on Sunday filed criminal complaints against the council members. The Ministry has also announced on Monday that 311 people have been arrested so far for “spreading terrorist propaganda” on social media concerning Turkey’s operation in Afrin.

The TTB has been subjected to a large number of violent threats after calling for an end to Turkey’s military campaign in Afrin region of the northwest Syria. President Erdoğan had called the country’s largest association of medical professionals “terrorist-lovers” on Friday after the TTB called for peace.

“There are some who are uncomfortable with the killing of terrorists like the so-called Turkish Medical Association, and they want to carry out a campaign saying no to war,” Erdoğan said. “We have never heard these terrorist-lovers ever say yes to peace up to the present day,” he added.

Claiming that TTB had never spoken out against terrorists killing innocent Turkish citizens, Erdoğan asked that “Did we ever hear of the slightest statement aimed at those carrying out domestic terrorism?” and replied himself: “We haven’t. They are involved in this business.”

“Believe me, they are not intellectuals at all, they are a gang of slaves. They are the servants of imperialism,” Erdoğan told on Sunday ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) members in the Black Sea province of Amasya.

TTB released a statement on Friday and expressed its members deep concern that President Erdoğan had made them a target. The TTB said the government has the responsibility to protect freedom of expression.

The Head of the İstanbul Medical Association, which is also affiliated to the TTB, has also issued a response to Erdoğan’s comments saying that opposing dirty wars is “patriotism.”

“When the life and death of Turkish soldiers is at stake in a war or conflict, and the life and death of our neighbours’ children are also at stake, it is never ‘non-national’ for a doctor to say it is better to try for peace without war,” said Selçuk Erez, the head of TTB branch in İstanbul.

“On the contrary, this is patriotism, this is love for humanity. I would very much like someone to explain to me what the statement by our umbrella institution the TTB has to do with loving terrorists,” he added.

Milena Buyum, a campaigner for Turkey’s Amnesty International, tweeted on Friday and calling for urgent action to protect the TTB members from the “threats of violence” it had received as a result of its opposition to the military operation.

Erdoğan’s words came after the association had released an earlier pro-peace statement on Thursday, implicitly criticising Turkey’s military operation in northwestern Syria. Saying that “War is a public health problem!” The statement has continued as follows:

“As doctors we warn: War is a human-made public health problem with effects of destroying nature and humankind, and a threat to social life. Each armed conflict, each war brings along human tragedy by causing irremediable problems in terms of physical, mental, social and environmental health. As members of a profession who have taken oath to save lives we constantly keep in mind our first and foremost duty to defend life and commit to maintain the environment of peace. The way to cope up with the problem of war is to have a just, democratic, equalitarian, free and peaceful life and maintain it. No to war; peace now and everywhere!”

Meanwhile, pro-government radical Islamist Yeni Şafak daily has called for Turkish government to shut down the TBB representing 80 percent of the country’s doctors after it opposed armed intervention into Afrin in Syria. According to a report by online news portal Ahval, in an article entitled “Close this association,” Yeni Şafak pointed out that the Turkish Health Ministry and a smaller medical union had both condemned the statement by the TTB.

“While Operation Olive Branch, being carried out in Afrin by the Turkish Armed Forces as part of the fight against terror continues, the reactions to the scandal statements by terror-lovers continue,” the newspaper said. “The most recent statement supporting the separatist terror organisation … came from the Turkish Medical Association.”

Turkish Health Ministry has also condemned the TTB and called for its central committee to resign and apologise to society for its “non-national” statement, reported Yeni Şafak.

Pro-Government professional association Sağlık-Sen has also filed for the TBB to be charged with applauding a crime, hate speech and harming the unity of the state and the wholeness of the nation. Prosecutors responded by opening an investigation against the TTB.

More than 21,000 health care professionals including doctors, nurses, medical professors, technicians and hospital staff have thus far been dismissed from public and private hospitals as well as medical schools and associations in Turkey as part of a crackdown on perceived critics of the government, research by the Stockholm Center for Freedom (SCF) has revealed on December 2017.

Many of these purged health care professionals have faced criminal proceedings on fabricated terrorism and coup plotting charges by the authoritarian government of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Thousands of doctors, nurses, pharmacists, scientific publishers and health authorities have ended up in jail, where they face torture and ill treatment, as part of an unprecedented crackdown on real or perceived critics of the regime.

Those who are still not in jail risk imprisonment as well because the government, without any administrative or judicial probe, branded them as terrorists overnight and will soon come after them once the backlog eases in the criminal justice system, which has locked up over 50,000 people within the last year. Only a fraction of those dismissed are able to leave Turkey because the government has cancelled the passports of health care professionals or has rejected passport applications for family members.

Turkey launched a military campaign, called “Operation Olive Branch”, against the mainly-Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) on Jan. 20. Turkey considers the YPG an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a terrorist-designated group that has a decades-long history of clashes with the Turkish armed forces.

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