Turkish Academics Imprisoned For Signing Petition Calling For Peace

Last month, Dr. Şebnem Korur Fincancı was sentenced by a Turkish court to two and a half years of imprisonment for allegedly disseminating terrorism propaganda, after signing a petition against violence in Southern Turkey. The plight of Fincancı, Turkey’s most highly respected expert on torture, has received limited international media coverage, despite the flagrant and corrupt misuse of power by the Turkish government.

The petition, signed by Fincancı, and around 2,200 other Turkish academics, was entitled, We Will Not Be Party To This Crime, and called for an end to violence between the Turkish Security forces and the Kurdistan Worker’s Party, as well as condemning the heavy-handed practices of the Turkish Security Forces. Fincancı was sentenced to the maximum available sentence, with the court declining to reduce or suspend it, almost certainly with the intention of sending a message to others, given her prominent status.

Fincancı’s sentence and sanctions against more than 500 other signatories have been condemned by NGOs, rights groups, and academics. Donna McKay, executive director of Physicians For Human Rights (PHR), in a letter to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, called for the immediate release and pardoning of Fincancı and the 63 other academics who have, to-date, been imprisoned, stating that, “Physicians and human rights defenders like Dr. Financi should be honoured, not persecuted, for the work they do.”

World Medical Association chair Dr. Ardis Hoven also expressed shock at the sentences, saying in an open letter: “These physicians, along with many other doctors and health care workers, are being punished for supporting a petition calling on the Turkish government to stop the violence against civilians. These are just the latest examples of the Turkish authorities completely ignoring the most basic human rights by violating the right to free speech.”

The imprisonment of Dr. Fincancı represents a frightening escalation in oppressive tactics against its critics by the Turkish government. Further, the lack of international denouncement and awareness suggests that their plight has not received the attention that it urges. Suppression of those seeking to identify and broadcast gross breaches of human rights by a government is abhorrent, and deserves to receive the full attention, condemnation, and diplomatic pressure of governments and citizens around the world.

Dr. Fincancı is a renowned expert on torture, and is one of Turkey’s most respected academics. She is the chair of the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey and has spent much of her professional life investigating and documenting torture, as well as helping victims of torture through rehabilitation and providing them access to justice. The International Federation for Human Rights reports that Dr. Fincancı has assisted more than 17,000 torture victims access rehabilitation and justice throughout her career. Unfortunately, Fincancı has been the subject of state oppression on multiple occasions due to her work exposing torture by Turkish forces, and her imprisonment marks an escalation in efforts to silence her.

Turkey is no stranger to rights violations, with a dubious record in relation to torture, extra-judicial killings, freedom of expression, and assembly. The imprisonment of Dr. Fincancı and her fellow academics is a flagrant breach of human rights by the Turkish government, which has implications for academics, activists, and human rights defenders in the country. Threatening critics into silence through the dubious use of anti-terrorism and national security laws is as abhorrent as it is a gross misuse of power on behalf of the Turkish state. The Turkish government should immediately release and pardon Dr. Fincancı and her fellow academics and respect the right of experts to criticise the government and highlight its shortcomings where found. A petition to the Turkish President condemning his government’s actions can be found here.