Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Nils Muiznieks on Tuesday condemned the detention 11 members of the Turkish Medical Association’s (TTB) central council for a statement criticizing Turkey’s military operation in the Afrin region of Syria.
“The contents of the 24 Jan statement of the Turkish Medical Association calling for peace are clearly covered by freedom of expression. Their targeting and today’s arrests are unacceptable,” Muiznieks tweeted.
The Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office on Monday launched an investigation into the 11 central council members after President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan lambasted them for their statement criticizing the Afrin operation, while the Interior Ministry filed criminal complaints against them.
In a statement titled “War is a Matter of Public Health” issued on Jan. 24, the TTB called on the government to end the war: “No to war, peace immediately!”
Accusing the association of “treason,” Erdoğan said on Jan. 29 in Amasya: “Believe me, they are not intellectuals at all, they are a gang of slaves. They are the servants of imperialism.”
“Whenever President Erdoğan calls someone ‘terrorist, spy, traitor,’ prosecutors and courts receive his speech as an order. The latest victims of this routine are 11 members of the Turkish Medical Association Central Council who were detained this morning,” human rights lawyer Kerem Altıparmak tweeted on Tuesday.
Reacting to the detentions, main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu accused the government of trying to “silence the association.”
Turkey on Jan. 20 launched a military operation in Afrin, which is controlled by the Kurdish Syrian Democratic Union Party (PYD). Turkey sees the PYD as the Syrian extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
The Turkish Interior Ministry announced on Monday that 311 people had been arrested thus far for “spreading terrorist propaganda” on social media concerning Turkey’s operation in Afrin.
The Turkish government has reacted strongly to people who oppose the operation, and prosecutor’s offices have launched investigations into those who share social media messages critical of the operation. Pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) members and journalists have been the target of the witch-hunt against Afrin operation critics.
President Erdoğan on Jan. 21 warned the HDP not to take to the streets to protest the operation in Afrin: “You are being closely followed. If you try to take to the streets, know that our security forces will be at your neck.”
“If anyone is in the streets upon calls [from the HDP], they will pay dearly for it. This is a national fight, and whoever opposes us will be crushed.” Erdoğan added.
Kral FM radio host Ali Şentürk, known as “Afrikalı Ali,” called on security forces to kill anybody who criticizes Turkey’s operation in the Kurdish-controlled Afrin region of Syria.
“I am calling on the police. They should show no mercy. The government has already given them the authority. They [police] should leave mercy aside against those who take to the streets [to protest the Afrin operation]. I even say: They should kill whoever takes to the streets. They should shoot them in the head even if they’re a member of Parliament, a businessman or a journalist,” Şentürk said during a radio program.