We are extremely honoured to be joined by one of Turkey’s most fearless and prominent human rights defenders, Dr. Şebnem Korur Fincancı, a globally renowned forensic physician, who is also founder member of one of Turkey’s largest human rights organisations, the Turkish Human Rights Foundation and has spent much of her career fighting torture and ill-treatment in Turkey and worldwide.
Her work on torture has taken her all around the world, leading and participating in human rights delegations, forensically uncovering torture and killings in places such as Bosnia and Bahrain, and uncovering and highlighting examples of torture in Turkey.
She is presently the President of the Turkish Medical Association, which was recently publicly targeted by the Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan for questioning the effectiveness of Turkovac, a Turkish domestically produced covid-19 vaccine that has been the subject of great controversy for its lack of transparency of data in trials.
Dr. Fincancı, alongside anti-torture experts from around the world, was one of the creators of the Istanbul Protocol, considered now to be the international standard for forensic investigations of torture. Her work on torture is legendary as is her dedication to human rights work in Turkey.
Medya News readers will know that Dr. Fincancı was arrested and jailed in relation to her act of solidarity with the Kurdish media in 2016, where she acted as ‘guest editor-in-chief’ of the famous Kurdish daily newspaper Özgür Gündem.
She is, in short, one of Turkey’s most prominent human rights defenders with a long and distinguished career in the fields of psychology, forensic medicine and human rights, that I could not hope to do justice to, given the limited time we have today, and it is such an honour to be joined by her for this short interview for Medya News.
Dr Fincancı began by explaining the role of the Turkish Medical Association (TTB), explaining that it existed like many other such organisations all over the world to protect the interests of its members, Turkish physicians, from violations of their rights. But it is written into the constitution of the TTB that it also has a responsibility to protect the health of the general public, which was why the organisation recently intervened in the issue of the domestically produced vaccination called Turkovac, the full results of the trials of which have not been published. The TTB has called for more transparency in relation to the testing of the vaccine.
Dr Fincancı spoke about some of the harsh working conditions of physicians in Turkey, especially during the covid-19 pandemic, and gave an example of a young doctor who recently, because she had worked such long hours, was involved in a fatal traffic accident as she left work in her car. She also highlighted the pay of doctors that she described as ‘below the hunger line’. This has only been made worse by the steady rise of inflation and the economic crisis in Turkey.
All of these issues have led to a steady rise in the number of physicians leaving Turkey to seek employment in countries such as the UK and Germany, where working conditions and pay are better.
At least 1,405 physicians left Turkey last year to seek a better life abroad, according to Dr Fincancı.
The medical staff who are left to deal with the covid-19 cases are working under very difficult circumstances, and their morale is not so good. Having to deal with such heavy and demanding work is taking a toll both emotionally and physically.
She spoke in greater detail about the recent public discussions that took place regarding the Turkish vaccine Turkovac, saying that the concerns of the TTB regarding the vaccine were to do with the lack of transparency of the results of trials, saying that a company producing another vaccine used in Turkey was very transparent in publishing results and being fully open to questioning, but that the Turkovac data had not been released in full. After the TTB’s intervention some more details were released, but still much of the data remains unpublished.
Dr Fincancı then spoke about the issue of sick prisoners, saying that the TBB had received applications from prisoners, prisoners’ lawyers and human rights groups such as the Human Rights Association (IHD), that they would organise special committees with all of the relevant interested parties, and would at times seek alternative medical reports from independent sources for the sick prisoners.
The sick political prisoner and Kurdish politician Aysel Tuğluk is one of those whose cases have been taken up by the TTB, and they had sought an independent medical assessment for her. A medical university has also detailed a medical report for Aysel Tuğluk detailing her deteriorating condition. However, Dr Fincancı said, the official government Forensic Medical Institute (ATK) often controversially contradicts these expert independent medical reports, so this makes it very difficult for prisoners to achieve their rights, presenting a great risk to their health, and unfortunately some prisoners have died in prison as a result. She said that prisoners often do not have access to proper health facilities or services and are often cared for by their fellow prisoners, if they are in a dormitory.
Another issue for prisoners is the constant violation of their rights, such as being handcuffed in hospitals or clinics while being examined by medical staff, with police officers and prison wardens being present in the examining room. These are all examples of human rights violations and unethical behaviour against prisoners, Dr. Fincancı said.
She also highlighted the issue of so-called ‘suicides’ in Turkish prisons, referring to the case of Garibe Gezer, and again spoke about the lack of transparency of any investigations into such cases.
She said there is a policy of impunity when it comes to illegal practices by Turkish security or prison officials, and that this is a major issue.
Dr. Fincancı ended by saying that we need to protect our world, and to protect against any further pandemics we need to establish social systems that can tackle preventable diseases in a way that does not discriminate and are accessible for everyone.