IBAHRI and ATI pen letter to Turkey’s President condemning conviction of 11 medical professionals

The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI), in conjunction with the Anti-Torture Initiative (ATI), has written to Turkey’s President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, condemning the conviction of 11 members of the Turkish Medical Association (TMA) Central Council on terrorism charges.

Signed by the IBAHRI Co-Chairs, the Honourable Michael Kirby AC CMG and Anne Ramberg Dr jur hc, and the Director of the Anti-Torture Initiative Juan E Méndez, a former United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, the letter, sent on 17 May, expresses particular concern about the adverse impact of these prosecutions on the impartiality of the medical profession and the human right to health, as well as the general state of freedom of expression in Turkey.

Having published two declarations critical of the Turkish authorities, ‘War is a public health problem’ and ‘It is Quite Possible to Live in Peace and Equality on this Land’, in 2018 and 2016 respectively, the TMA members were charged with spreading terror and inciting hatred and hostility. On 3 May 2019, the 32nd High Criminal Court in Ankara sentenced the 11 individuals to ten months’ imprisonment for each statement. One member, Dr Handa Arpat, was additionally charged with ‘terrorist propaganda’ for his activities on social media, which the Court considered to be sympathetic to those whom the Turkish government deems members of terrorist organisations. Dr Arpat was sentenced to a total of three years, three months and 22 days in prison.

As the open letter explains, these prosecutions fail to acknowledge that raising awareness of negative public health consequences arising from conflict is a duty incumbent on medical experts, derived both from the ethical standards of the profession as well as international legal standards. The preservation of medical professionals’ autonomy, which includes safeguarding their freedom of expression, is of utmost importance in order to fulfil this duty. The doctors’ convictions for terrorism resembles an act of intimidation that threatens the impartiality of the medical profession, thereby endangering the human right to health.

In addition, the cases indicate a worrying tendency by the Turkish government to use terrorist legislation as a means of limiting dissenting speech. In this regard, the IBAHRI and ATI draw President Erdogan’s attention to both national and international legal provisions that safeguard freedom of expression and that are binding on Turkey. These include Articles 19(2) and 21 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, both of which are ratified by Turkey, as well as Article 26 of the Constitution of Turkey.

The letter’s concluding paragraphs read: ‘The IBAHRI and ATI strongly condemn the conviction of the members of the TMA and call on Your Excellency to ensure the recognition of freedom of expression and the independence and impartiality of medical professionals, requiring the immediate end of the undue repression of doctors and restriction of democratic liberties in Turkey.

We would be grateful to receive your assurances that you have received our letter and that our concerns will be addressed as a matter of urgency.


Notes to the Editor

  1. click here to download the open letter from the IBAHRI and ATI to President Erdogan.
  2. The International Bar Association (IBA) – the global voice of the legal profession – is the foremost organisation for international legal practitioners, bar associations and law societies. Established in 1947, shortly after the creation of the United Nations, it was born out of the conviction that an organisation made up of the world's bar associations could contribute to global stability and peace through the administration of justice.

    The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI), an autonomous and financially independent entity, works to promote, protect and enforce human rights under a just rule of law, and to preserve the independence of the judiciary and the legal profession worldwide.
  3. The Anti-Torture Initiative (ATI) is a core project of the Center for Human Rights and Humanitarian Law at American University Washington College of Law (WCL). The ATI was set up in 2011 with the purpose of expanding the reach and practical implementation of the work of former United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and Professor of Human Rights Law in Residence at WCL, Juan E Méndez.

    The ATI has played a key role in supporting the development of norms, providing technical assistance and capacity building, and promoting the implementation of reforms and best practices in different jurisdictions. During the former Special Rapporteur’s tenure from November 2010 to November 2016, the ATI worked vigorously to complement his activities, particularly in the areas of follow-up, implementation and dissemination. Since 2016, the ATI has continued its mission by devising programmatic and country-specific activities in key thematic areas, including solitary confinement, investigative interviewing, gender and torture, and the Istanbul Protocol.

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