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Politicians, lawyers condemn detention of Turkish rights activist over chemical weapons comment

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Thirteen bar associations and a number of opposition politicians have expressed outrage over the detention of the head of Turkey’s doctors union on accusations of spreading “terrorist propaganda” after she urged a probe into the army’s alleged use of chemical weapons against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

Şebnem Korur Fincancı, head of the Turkish Medical Association (TTB) and a prominent human rights activist, was taken into custody at her home in İstanbul on Wednesday for calling for a probe into allegations that appeared in media outlets close to the PKK that the Turkish army was using chemical weapons in its counterterrorism operations in northern Iraq, a claim that was strongly denied by Turkish authorities.

Thirteen bar associations from across Turkey released a joint statement on Wednesday, demanding Fincancı’s immediate release and saying her detention amounts to a violation of the rights to freedom of expression and security by way of “arbitrary judicial practice.”

According to Turkish media reports, the bars also said the Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office’s application to dismiss Fincancı from her position at the TTB was “unacceptable” and “a clear threat to professional organizations and civil society.”

“Şebnem Korur Fincancı made an assessment. I don’t agree with that assessment. … But if [the government] says, ‘We will imprison the person who made this statement,’ that country can’t be called a democracy,” Özgür Özel, parliamentary group deputy chairman of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), said during a press conference at the party’s main office in Düzce on Wednesday.

Özel added that they don’t find Fincancı’s treatment to be correct since it was “disproportionate” and would put Turkey in “serious trouble” for making the country look like a “dictatorship.”

Democracy and Progress Party (DEVA) leader and former Turkish deputy prime minister Ali Babacan tweeted that Turkey’s reputation wouldn’t be damaged by Fincancı’s remarks but that it would be “impossible” to make up for the damage done by the judiciary acting on the instructions of politicians in power.

“Threatening the TTB, detaining its president… This is how the government paves the road to elections. … Now is the time to act in solidarity with the TTB,” Labor Party (EMEP) leader Ercüment Akdeniz said in a tweet, referring to Turkey’s elections scheduled for June 2023.

Describing Fincancı’s detention as the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government’s “rush to cover up the crimes” it committed, the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party’s (HDP) said in a statement released on Twitter that the rights activist had fulfilled the requirements professional integrity.

“You can’t hide the truth or silence society with these attacks,” the HDP said, addressing the AKP government.

The detention of Fincancı and the ongoing smear campaign against the TTB is “unacceptable,” the Workers’ Party of Turkey (TİP) said in a statement, adding that expressing opinions and wanting the public to be informed wasn’t a crime.

On Oct. 18 the pro-Kurdish Fırat News Agency (ANF) published a video that showed two members of the PKK, listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey and much of the international community, apparently under the influence of a chemical agent.

Fincancı commented on the video during a live broadcast on Medya Haber TV on Oct. 20, saying that it was “obvious” that one of the toxic chemical gases that directly affect the nervous system has been used and adding that an effective investigation by an independent body should be carried out in order to hold the states that use such weapons accountable.

The rights activist, who was recently in Germany, later said in a statement to the Kronos news website that she did not accuse the TSK of having used chemical weapons against PKK militants, she just wanted an investigation into the claims. She said she can’t understand why the Turkish authorities get so offended when it is the northern Iraqi administration that won’t allow an investigation.

Fincancı is frequently targeted by the Turkish government and the victim of judicial harassment for standing up against widespread human rights violations in the country, which reached new heights following a failed coup in July 2016.

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