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Court disbands medical association board over remarks by chairwoman

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A court in Ankara has ordered the dismissal of the executive board of Turkey’s top doctors association, a year after the organization’s chairwoman was arrested for allegedly spreading terrorist propaganda.

Şebnem Korur Fincancı, president of the Turkish Medical Association (TTB), was arrested in October 2022 after she called for an investigation into the possible use of chemical weapons by the Turkish army against Kurdish militants in northern Iraq. The indictment sought a prison sentence of up to seven-and-a-half years on charges of dissemination of terrorist propaganda and insult.

The court convicted Fincancı in January of the charges levied against her and sentenced her to two years, eight months and 15 days in prison, releasing her pending appeal.

The Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office, which drafted the indictment, demanded the dismissal of the TTB Central Council, which includes Fincancı, by the Ankara 31st Civil Court of First Instance, saying the group’s activities went “beyond their intended purpose.”

The prosecutor’s office, highlighting Fincancı’s role as head of the organization, argued for disciplinary action under the TTB’s Professional Ethics Rules and Disciplinary Regulations. The indictment against Fincancı, prepared on Oct. 26, 2022, accused her of using her position and the platform afforded her by the TTB for illegal activities and propagating terrorism.

The Ankara civil court decided to remove the executive board members and appointed five persons in their stead as trustees, who will oversee a period of transition until elections are held to elect new executive body members and a new chair. The decision will not come into effect until the appeals process is completed.

The TTB, in a statement on X formerly Twitter, criticized the ruling as part of an ongoing series of government attacks on the organization, emphasizing their commitment to upholding equality, freedom, democracy, justice and health. Fincancı vowed to continue fighting, asserting the TTB’s role in addressing public health issues and upholding democratic values.

Political figures and professional organizations have expressed solidarity with the TTB. Legislators from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Equality and Democracy Party (HEDEP) and the Labor Party of Turkey (TİP) as well as representatives from various unions, human rights foundations and associations voiced their support at a TTB press conference. They condemned the court’s decision as an attack not just on the TTB but on civil society as a whole.

CHP leader Özgür Özel, HEDEP Co-Chair Tuncer Bakırhan, Union of Chambers of Turkish Engineers and Architects (TMMOB) President Emin Koramaz, Confederation of Progressive Trade Unions of Turkey (DİSK) Chair Arzu Çerkezoğlu and TİP leader Erkan Baş were among those who denounced the ruling, framing it as a broader assault on Turkish democracy and a symbol of the government’s increasing authoritarianism.

The TTB’s legal team, led by attorney Verda Ersoy, stressed that the court’s decisions are not enforceable until they are finalized at the appeals level, indicating that the TTB will continue its operations and advocacy under the current leadership during the appeal.

Fincancı, in her remarks, emphasized the TTB’s unwavering commitment to their cause, stating, “We will not be silenced, we are not afraid, we will not give up, we are not going anywhere. The TTB is our professional organization. No one can take it from us.”

The legal proceedings against Fincancı and the TTB started after critical remarks were made by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader Devlet Bahçeli in October 2022.

Erdoğa slammed Fincancı’s call for an investigation into the alleged use of chemical weapons in military operations. Bahçeli, in line with Erdoğan’s criticism, suggested removing the word “Turkish” from the TTB’s name.

In 2020 Erdoğan targeted the TTB as well as the Union of Chambers of Turkish Engineers and Architects (TMMOB).

The two organizations routinely find themselves in Erdoğan’s crosshairs due their outspoken criticism of his government.

Observers argue that legal action against the TTB Central Council had long been in the works but that Erdoğan’s government put a hold on it until a congress was held on June 26, 2023 to see if there would be a change in leadership. However, upon TTB members’ reelection of Fincancı, the court decided to dismiss the TTB Central Council, long targeted by the AKP and MHP.

The Ankara 31st Civil Court of First Instance’s decision to dismiss the TTB Central Council and appoint trustee management will be sent to the top appeals court. If the Supreme Court of Appeals upholds the decision, the elected management of the TTB will be replaced with appointed trustees.

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