Almost four years after Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan publicly accused the Turkish Medical Association (TTB) of supporting terrorism, the association and its members continue to be targeted.
It was in a meeting of the Justice and Development Party (AKP), only a few days after the military operation to occupy Syria’s Kurdish-majority city of Afrin began, that Turkish president Erdoğan blatantly used the term ‘terrorist-lovers‘ for the TTB, the professional association of physicians in Turkey.
“A so-called Turkish Medical Association tries to run a campaign under the slogan ‘No to War’,” Erdoğan had said. “We actually haven’t ever heard these terrorist-lovers say yes to peace. In fact they have nothing to do with peace.”
Dr. Şeyhmus Gökalp, a member of the High Honorary Board of TTB, indicted for ‘being a member of an armed terrorist group’, may now face a sentence of up to 15 years in prison on Friday.
International human rights organisations have called for action to end ‘all forms of harassment, including at the judicial level’ against him.
Dr. Gökalp was arrested on 20 November 2020 in Turkey’s southeastern city of Diyarbakır (Amed) for his alleged affiliation with the Democratic Society Congress (DTK), a legal civil society organisation, and was released on 10 February 2021 after spending over 80 days in detention.
On 15 October 2021 he was charged in court for ‘being a member of an armed terrorist group’ and the prosecutor requested a prison term of up to 15 years.
The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a partnership of the World Organisation
Against Torture (OMCT), and International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH) released a statement addressing the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the Turkish ministers of justice and the interior, urging the Turkish authorities to put an end to all forms of harassment against Dr. Gökalp and calling for international action in his support.
“The Observatory condemns the judicial harassment of Dr. Gökalp and recalls that this is not the first time that TTB members and Dr. Gökalp have been targeted because of their peaceful and legitimate human rights activities,” the statement said.
“These practices are used as a threat to civil society in conditions where the rule of law is eliminated, and the judiciary lacks independence. The Observatory urges the Turkish authorities to immediately and unconditionally put an end to all forms of harassment, including at the judicial level, against Dr. Şeyhmus Gökalp and all human rights defenders in Turkey.”
While the verdict is expected to be announced in a court session on 19 November, Prof. Dr. Şebnem Korur Fincancı, the Chairperson of the Turkish Medical Association, made a statement on Tuesday, saying that the association and its members have been under continuous judicial attacks instigated by the Turkish authorities.
“We have been faced for a long period with a wave of trials targeting our colleagues, especially in Diyarbakır, carried out essentially on the basis of accusations by fake witnesses, brought into the case as the ‘statements of secret witnesses’,” she said. “Dear Şeyhmus Gökalp is one of our colleagues who have been targeted by these fake witnesses.”
Dr. Gökalp had said after his release in February that the whole witness statement was a lie, and he’d never even heard of the name of the witness.