Şebnem Korur Fincancı is the latest human rights defender to be jailed in Turkey as authorities pursue a bogus investigation against her for “spreading terrorist propaganda.” Korur Fincancı is head of the Turkish Medical Association, former head of the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey, and a retired professor of forensic pathology. Her work was central to the creation of the United Nations’ “Istanbul Protocol,” a landmark manual on how to identify and document signs of torture. She has also worked on the exhumation of mass graves and forensic documentation of war crimes in different countries.
Korur Fincancı’s arrest and pre-trial detention followed an interview she gave to pro-Kurdish TV on October 19. Responding to allegations that the Turkish military had used chemical weapons against the armed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, Korur Fincancı said the video footage she had seen suggested use of toxic gases affecting the nervous system and that there should be a full investigation. Turkish pro-government media and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan accused Korur Fincancı and the Turkish Medical Association of slandering the Turkish military. Prosecutors and courts rapidly responded by ordering her investigation and detention.
Korur Fincancı’s arrest is the latest in a pattern of politically motivated cases as the Erdoğan government continues its crackdown on critics and opponents. Just this week, police also detained 10 Kurdish journalists on top of 16 incarcerated in June. The Turkish authorities show all the signs of being determined to silence the voices of experts like Korur Fincancı as well as the journalists who report their words.
Authorities also appear focused on a broader plan of reshaping and taking over professional bodies that have been critical of government policies. On October 27, Turkey’s justice minister announced a plan to restructure both the Turkish Medical Association, from which Korur Fincancı will be removed as head, and the Union of Chambers of Turkish Engineers and Architects. Mücella Yapıcı, a prominent member of the latter, was convicted and jailed in April along with rights defender Osman Kavala and six others for her alleged role in the 2013 Gezi Park protests.
In the run-up to the 2023 presidential and parliamentary elections, the Turkish government is likely to continue to misuse criminal charges and detention against individuals it wants to silence and attempt to seize institutions outside its control.