On 30 January 2018, Turkish police detained eleven leading members of the Turkish Medical Association (TMA), including the union’s chairman, Rasit Tukel, following a statement on 24 January denouncing the country’s military operation in northern Syria. Police reportedly seized computers and documents belonging to the union. The union faced criticism and threats of physical violence following their statement. In a speech on 29 January, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called TMA members “terrorist lovers.”
The eleven TMA members were held for “propagandizing for the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK)” – listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey. Three TMA members were released on 2 February and the remaining eight members were released three days later, on 5 February. However, the charges brought against them were not dismissed. On 8 February, President Erdogan said that a new law will strip the word “Turkish” from the name of the union.
The harassment of the TMA is part of a broader crackdown on dissent in Turkey. As many as 311 people have been detained for criticizing Turkey’s cross-border military operation on social media.
President Erdogan must end the campaign of intimidation against the TMA and any other group or individual exercising their right to free expression and free speech. Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Turkey ratified in 2003, upholds the right to free expression without interference. Defenders for Medical Impartiality and the European Centre for Democracy and Human Rights join medical organizations and civil society groups in calling on the Turkish government to assure the safety of the TMA members, drop all charges brought against them and counter incitement to violence.