Prison terms for physicians for stating war not good for health

Dr. Selma Güngör, a woman physician, wrote in her defense that, “It is normal to demand peace when one sees the destruction caused by wars.”

Prison terms for physicians for stating war not good for health

When Turkey decided to attack, called the “Operation Olive Branch,” the Kurdish province of Afrin in Syria, the Association of Physicians of Turkey knew they could not stay silent any more.

The association, knowing the devastation wars cause on human health came out with a document titled, “War is a public health issue.”

This simple, undisputed and banal declaration, however, was done in Turkey where, forget challenging, even merely questioning the government’s narrative is not permitted.

The government was not going to take lightly this sudden reminder of a modest fact.  Immediately charges were brought against the then Central Committee of the Association of Physicians of Turkey.  They were charged for “terrorist propaganda” and for “inciting hatred and animosity among the people.”

The final trial ended with a verdict on May 2.   10 doctors received 1 year 8 months prison sentences while a women doctor, Hande Arpat, received 3 years, 3 months and 22 days.

The trial was followed closely by the health organizations of the world.  The ex-president of CPME, Standing Committee of European Doctors (Comité Permanent des Médecins Européens) Dr. Jacques de Haller was present at the verdict hearing.  Many presidents of bar associations and union representatives around Turkey were also present at the session as observers.

The trial had opened on December 27th, 2018 where the Attorney General requested that the doctors be punished twice for their two public statements on the same issue.  However, this request caused widespread condemnation from labor and health care organizations because the AG had not even heard the physicians defenses and had simply pushed forward a pre-prepared demand to imprison the doctors.

The attorneys for the doctors claimed the case had no merit and the real target of the case was to put not the physicians but the thought of exposing the damage wars bring to a society on trial.

The Head of the Central Committee, Professor Dr. Raşit Tükel, said during the hearing that their statement simply portrayed the situation the country had been brought to and said, “Many health issues are not under the control of individuals but are caused by economic or social reasons. As doctors, our very basic task is to take care of peoples’ health without any discrimination. Our organization, TTB, has opposed war from the very first day and gives importance to eliminating anything that may cause a health issue.”

Dr. Selma Güngör, a woman physician, wrote in her defense that, “It is normal to demand peace when one sees the destruction caused by wars.”

Another female doctor, Hande Arpat, received an extended sentence of more than 3 years and 3 months because she had shared her views on social media thus qualifying her to be sentenced for “terrorist propaganda.”

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