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UN experts demand Turkey release doctor held over chemical arms comment

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UN rights experts on Tuesday called on Turkey to release a medical doctors union leader held on “terrorism” charges after calling for a probe into alleged army use of chemical weapons against Kurdish militants, Agence France-Presse reported.

The five independent experts, including the special rapporteurs on torture, on extrajudicial executions and on protecting human rights while countering terrorism, called for Şebnem Korur Fincancı to be let go “immediately and unconditionally.”

Fincancı, 63, chairperson of the Turkish Medical Association (TTB), a forensic expert and a prominent human rights activist, was arrested in Ankara last month.

The experts pointed out that Fincancı’s arrest at her home on Oct. 26 was believed to be “in retaliation for her public comments calling for investigations into the alleged use of chemical weapons and associated deaths by the Turkish military.”

Turkey has rejected allegations in media outlets close to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) that its army has used chemical weapons in operations in northern Iraq.

The PKK is listed as a terror group by Turkey and its Western allies.

Fincancı told AFP last month that she had examined video footage and had only called for “an effective investigation” into the allegations.

Her arrest “appears part of a deliberate pattern of applying counter-terrorism legislation to discredit human rights defenders and organizations and interrupt their vital human rights and medical work,” the experts said.

“We have documented many cases where counter-terrorism legislation and other criminal provisions have been used to harass, arrest, detain and convict civil society actors … on spurious grounds,” said the experts, who are appointed by the UN Human Rights Council but do not speak for the world body.

They called on Turkey to stop using counter-terrorism legislation to intimidate rights defenders, warning that doing so undermines the rule of law and encroaches on fundamental freedoms and democratic values.

“Human rights defenders and medical practitioners’ ability to speak truth to power must be protected,” they said.

“Their role in exposing human rights violations is one of the cornerstones of democratic societies.”

Meanwhile, Dr. Klaus Reinhardt, president of the German Medical Association, also called for Fincancı’s release in a letter to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, calling the detention an attack on “the right to freedom of expression and medical self-regulation.”

“I call on you to release Professor Şebnem Korur Fincancı immediately,” Reinhardt wrote in a letter addressed to Erdoğan.

“The arrest of Professor Fincancı is an attack on the right to freedom of expression and on medical self-regulation. Doctors are responsible for the well-being of a society as a whole. This is at the heart of the medical identity,” said Reinhardt.

Fincancı faces charges of disseminating terrorist propaganda and insulting the state in her remarks.

Reinhardt said in his letter that Fincancı stands for the fact that medical action is inextricably linked to advocacy for human rights and that addressing possible human rights violations is the duty of every doctor.

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