Eleven members of Turkey’s top-tier medical association have been handed prison terms after publicly condemning their country’s military offensive against Kurdish fighters in neighboring Syria early last year.
According to the Agence France Presse, eleven members of the Turkish Medical Association (TTB) were sentenced by a heavy penal court to 20 months behind bars on Friday for “inciting hatred and hostility.”
The charges came soon after the members issued a statement early last year – in response to Turkey’s military incursion to successfully seize control of the then Kurdish-majority city of Afrin – declaring that “war is a man-made public health problem.”
One doctor, Handa Arpat, reportedly received a more stringent sentence of three years, three months and 22 days imprisonment for related social media posts and likes that were deemed to be sympathetic to female Kurdish fighters who played prominent roles in the fight against ISIS.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan hastily condemned the group as a “gang of unthinking slaves” following the release of the TTB statement. The Turkish government considers the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) – which is affiliated with the United States in the ISIS fight in Syria – as a terrorist group and mere wing of the long-designated terrorist separatist outfit, the PKK.
The Ankara-based TTB has around 83,000 members spanning dozens of provinces and is considered by much of the international community to be one of the country’s most esteemed and largest physicians’ groups.
TTB chairman Sinan Adiyaman – who was among those convicted – has vowed to appeal the sentences, and other associated human rights groups have also pledged to join for the fight.
“This gratuitous court decision is a new low in the attacks on doctors and the practice of health care, which have now become commonplace in Turkey,” Donna McKay, executive director for the U.S.-based Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), said in a statement after the ruling. “The sentencing of doctors who have bravely spoken out on the impact of war on the wellbeing of innocent civilians is an affront to both freedom of speech and the critical role medical professionals play in highlighting situations that pose risks to public health and the delivery of health care.”
PHR, which works closely with fellow medical professionals at the TMA, have furthermore called the sentencing “an egregious miscarriage of justice.”
“Efforts to intimidate and silence Turkish doctors are outrageous and unacceptable, especially when backed by the Turkish government,” stated Dr. Vincent Iacopino, a senior medical advisor for PHR. “We call on Turkish authorities to overturn this decision and halt the intimidation campaign against doctors – in the streets, in the media, and in the courts.”