Prof Şebnem Korur Fincancı is a prominent forensic medicine doctor, a member of the Human Rights Foundation of Türkiye and the head of the Union of Turkish Medical Associations. As a human rights defender, she has been subjected to baseless criminal investigations, detentions and prosecutions in the past. In 2016, she was briefly remanded in pre-trial detention when prosecuted for ‘propaganda for a terrorist organization’ for her role as a symbolic editor of the shuttered Kurdish daily Özgür Gündem. Along with her two co-defendants, she was acquitted in 2019 but their acquittals were overturned on appeal and their retrial is ongoing.
Over the last seven years, the Union of Turkish Medical Associations has also been targeted in multiple criminal investigations under Türkiye’s overly broad anti-terrorism laws, their prominent members subjected to detention and prosecutions.
On 19 October, Prof Fincancı joined a live television broadcast on the Medya TV channel to comment on video images that had been circulating on social media of armed PKK members, allegedly suffering the aftereffects of a chemical weapons attack. According to the Union of Turkish Medical Associations, Prof Fincancı’s live comments were subsequently edited and recirculated by Medya TV, presenting them as if she had established the use of the banned weapons. In her subsequent comments, Prof Fincancı repeatedly stated that she had simply called for the allegations to be investigated independently.
On 20 October, the Ministry of Defence requested a criminal investigation be opened under Article 217/a of the Turkish Penal Code criminalising ‘deliberately spreading false information to the public’, Article 216 criminalising ‘inciting the public to hatred and enmity’, Article 267/1 for ‘defamation’, Article 301 for ‘insulting the State, state institutions and organs’ and Article 7/2 of the Anti-Terrorism Law for ‘propaganda for a terrorist organization’.
On 21 October, on becoming aware of the investigation, Prof Fincancı’s lawyers requested the file from the Ankara Chief Prosecutor and informed them that Prof Fincancı would be available for an interview from Monday 24 October, following her return from a visit in Germany on 23 October. The file was not provided to Prof Fincancı’s legal representatives by the time she was detained following a police raid to her home in Istanbul in the early hours of 26 October. She was brought to Ankara during the day and was detained at the Ankara Security Directorate Anti-Terrorism Branch.
Under international human rights law and standards, the state has the ultimate responsibility to protect and promote human rights and consequently, protect human rights defenders who highlight human rights violations. States have the duty to prevent human rights violations and abuses committed against human rights defenders and related to their work as HRDs, and to ensure that they can carry out their work in a safe and enabling environment.