Head of Turkish medical group stands trial on terror charges

December 23, 2022 GMT

ISTANBUL (AP) — The president of the Turkish Medical Association denied in court on Friday accusations that she disseminated “terrorist propaganda” by calling for an investigation into allegations that the Turkish military used chemical weapons against Kurdish militants.

Dr. Sebnem Korur Fincanci, 63, is on trial accused of engaging in propaganda on behalf of the banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK. She was arrested in October after she gave an interview during which she spoke of the need for an “effective investigation” into the allegations.

Fincanci, a forensic expert, is the latest activist to be prosecuted under Turkey’s broad anti-terrorism laws, which human rights groups say have led to a crackdown on the freedom of expression. She faces up to seven and a half years in prison if found guilty.

The charges are based on a recording of the interview with a pro-Kurdish media outlet where Fincanci is heard saying that she had reviewed a video purporting to show the use of chemical weapons in Iraq.

“What I expressed during the broadcast was a preliminary diagnostic. It was not a definitive conclusion but a request for an effective, independent investigation,” Dokuz 8 Haber website quoted her as telling the court during the first hearing of her trial. “My words cannot be considered a crime within the scope of science or freedom of expression.”

The trial was adjourned until Dec. 29.

The interview followed allegations by Kurdish militants that Turkey’s military had used chemical weapons against the PKK in northern Iraq. Turkish officials strongly rejected the allegations, insisting the military doesn’t have such weapons in its inventory.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused Fincanci of slandering Turkey’s armed forces and of insulting her country. He vowed to take actions to clear the Turkish Medical Association and other professional organizations of “supporters of the terrorist organization.”

A nationalist party that is allied with Erdogan’s ruling party demanded that she be stripped of her Turkish citizenship and for her association to be shut down.

Hundreds of people gathered outside to courthouse in a show of support for Fincanci who has spent much of her career documenting torture and ill-treatment, and is a leading human rights activist in Turkey. She has also served as president of the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey.

On Friday, the German government’s human rights commissioner, Luise Amtsberg, expressed “full solidarity” with Fincanci, describing her as “one of Turkey’s most courageous voices.”

“The trial against Sebnem Korur Fincanci shows us once again what price human rights defenders in Turkey pay for their commitment,” she said.

The PKK has led an armed insurgency against the Turkish state since 1984. The group is considered a terrorist organization in Turkey, Europe and the United States.