Statements legitimising torture are dangerous to all, regardless of who is the torture victim, Turkish Medical Association (TTB) President Prof Dr Şebnem Korur Fincancı warned, in response to recent allegations made in a documentary focusing on Turkish cult leader Adnan Oktar and his organisation.
The documentary, produced and released by the YouTube channel 140journos, alleges that Fincancı falsified medical reports to support claims of torture made by members of Oktar’s organisation.
Fincancı, Turkey’s top forensic expert dedicated to fighting torture, has responded to the claims and addressed issues such as how torture the reports were prepared. She also stressed that torture is an “absolute crime” and warned that such false accusations not only target her personally but also risk endangering torture victims by legitimising acts of torture.
Having faced government pressure for her reports identifying instances of torture by Turkish law enforcement in the 1990s, when the Kurdish conflict was at its height, Fincancı shared her insights with bianet on her current predicament. She attributed the targeting to her role as an independent forensic expert, explaining how forensic medicine is often instrumentalised by governments to cover up crimes, including torture.
“Since I am not an instrument of the state, I become its target,” Fincancı said.
She lamented the atmosphere of fear which stifles engagement in such a crucial field, emphasising that the attacks against her are ultimately attacks against the broader struggle for human rights and justice. She reiterated that her priority remains to make torture visible and to ensure that justice is served through fair trials and effective investigations.
Fincancı was previously arrested in 2022 over her comments on the Turkish armed forces’ potential use of chemical weapons in their operations in northern Iraq. Dr Fincancı said symptoms displayed in a video released by the People’s Defence Forces (HPG) were compatible with the use of chemical weapons, and that HPG’s claims of Turkish chemical use were not outside the realm of possibility.
Later, as a result of her advocacy for an investigation into the alleged use of chemical weapons by Turkish forces against Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq, a Turkish court ordered the dismissal of Fincancı, along with other members of the central council of the TTB.
Regarding the torture reports mentioned in the documentary, Fincancı clarified that they had been prepared as a result of a request made to the Istanbul Faculty of Medicine’s Forensic Medicine Polyclinic in 2006, and not five years later as suggested in the documentary. She explained that the clinic had been set up to provide independent alternative assessments and was open to all applications relating to alleged human rights violations.
Fincancı went on to assert that such reports are based on medical examinations and evaluations carried out according to medical protocols, with the assistance where necessary of independent experts, and do not rely solely on the statements of the individuals involved, and that the events at the time followed a similar process.
Responding to claim by Özkan Mamati, a former member of the Oktar’s organisation, in the documentary that “the organisation would have been brought to an end much sooner, before the verdict in 2022, if it hadn’t been for the influence of the torture reports”, Fincancı stressed that the reports in fact had no impact in court.
Semra Pelek, a journalist who has been following the Adnan Oktar cases, confirmed Fincancı’s account, explaining: “Previously, all but one of the victims were reluctant to lodge a complaint, saying they had received threats. That was the real end of the previous cases against Oktar.”
Referring to the implication that a blind eye should have been turned to any torture that may have been applied to members of such a cult organisation, Fincancı warned against statements that legitimise torture.
The 140journos team, producers of the documentary, also claimed that they had contacted Fincancı about the allegations, but she had not exercised her right to reply. However, Fincancı stated that she had not been contacted before the release of the documentary and only received an email trying to reach her after the event, which she had not received at the time. She emphasised her accessibility, stating that she always answers calls, even from unknown numbers.
Undeterred by the accusations, Fincancı announced her intention to take legal action against the documentary’s smear campaign and denounced its efforts to tarnish her reputation by the use of false allegations.
Meanwhile, 140journos came under fire from rights organisations for failing to fulfil its journalistic principles and for failing to expose Adnan Oktar’s alleged political connections, which, allegedly, for many years made it impossible to bring down the organisation.
The Human Rights Association (İHD) and the Turkish Human Rights Foundation (TİHV) have both rallied behind Fincancı, condemning the allegations and reiterating that torture is a crime against humanity.
Adnan Oktar and 176 others were arrested in 2018 on multiple charges, including establishing a criminal organisation, sexual abuse of children, sexual assault and political and military espionage. In 2022, Oktar and 13 other members of the organisation were sentenced to a total of 8,658 years in prison. Oktar himself was sentenced to 891 years in prison for various crimes.