Turkish doctor on 'terror' trial over chemical arms comment

Turkish doctor on 'terror' trial over chemical arms comment
The head of Turkey's main medical union went on trial Friday on "terror" charges, after she called for an investigation into Ankara's alleged use of chemical weapons in northern Iraq.
3 min read
23 December, 2022
Fincanci is known to openly speak out against Erdogan's government [Getty/archive]

The head of Turkey's main medical union went on trial Friday on "terror" charges linked to her calls for a probe into the army's alleged use of chemical weapons against Kurdish fighters in Iraq.

Sebnem Korur Fincanci was arrested and jailed on October 26 after becoming one of the most prominent public figures to draw attention to reports that first surfaced in media outlets close to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).

It said 17 of its fighters had died in Turkish chemical weapons attacks in the mountains and caves of northern Iraq.

The PKK has been waging a bloody insurgency against the Turkish state since the 1980s that has seen it listed as a terrorist organisation by Ankara and its Western allies.

The Turkish defence ministry called the allegations "slander" and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused Fincanci of "speaking the language of terrorism".

Fincanci has been charged with disseminating "terror propaganda" - a crime that has seen past defendants sentenced to 13 years in jail.

The court remanded Fincanci in custody at the end of the first day of testimony and set the next hearing for Wednesday.

"Professor Sebnem is not alone!" her supporters chanted as she was being led from the Istanbul courtroom back to jail.

The 63-year-old forensic medicine expert entered the packed hearing holding a defiant fist in the air while her backers applauded and dozens of riot police looked on.

Fincanci once again called for "an effective investigation" into the use of the weapons that included on-the-ground inspections and autopsies of the Kurdish fighters.

"As a human rights defender, I have a responsibility to defend freedom of expression and the public's right to information," she told the court.

Fincanci is known in Turkey as both a forensics expert and a human rights campaigner who openly speaks out against Erdogan's government.

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch issued a joint call with five other organisations for Fincanci's release pending her trial.

"Korur Fincanci is a distinguished expert on the documentation of torture," they said.

"Her work should be lauded, not punished," the World Medical Association's German chairman Frank Ulrich Montgomery added in the statement.

But the chief prosecutor argued in court Friday that Fincanci "actively participated in propaganda activities of the PKK" and asked for her to remain in custody pending trial.

Fincanci said her continued detention only helped bring broader attention to her calls for an independent probe into the Kurdish reports.

"Don't think that being under arrest and in jail is tough for me," she said moments before being remanded in custody.

"It's actually a golden opportunity for a human rights advocate such as me."