Turkish gov’t launches probe into 11 members of medical association for criticism of Afrin offensive

The Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office on Monday launched an investigation into 11 council members of the Turkish Medical Association (TTB), which is representing 80 percent of Turkish health sector professionals, over their critical messages on Turkey’s military operation in the Kurdish-controlled Afrin region of Syria.

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.”

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.

Take a second to support SCF on Patreon!