A Turkish court on Friday sentenced 11 doctors to 20 months in jail after they were convicted for criticizing a government army operation in Syria’s Afrin in 2018.
The former executive board members of the Turkish Medical Association (TTB) were found guilty on charges of supporting terrorism by the Ankara 32nd High Criminal Court.
This was after they published a statement titled War is a public health problem, criticizing Turkey’s cross-border operation into the Kurdish-populated enclave of Afrin, ahead of the operation, on January 24last year.
The TTB declaration called on the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) to halt the military action and seek peaceful solutions instead.
Following the TTB’s announcement, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused the association of treason, labeling its members’ gangs and slaves of imperialism.
“This institution has nothing to do with Turkishness and nothing about them is worthy of the notion of Turkishness,” said Erdogan, adding the body would be stripped of the word Turkish, in its title.
Police arrested the members and kept them detained for five days until February 5 as the Afrin operation, known as Operation Olive Branch raged on.
The defendants were charged by the prosecution with terrorist propaganda and trying to legitimize a terrorist group’s activities.”
During the closing defense arguments, the doctors called for their acquittal on terror-related charges.
After the defendants’ statements, the prosecutor announced his opinion as to the accusations which were criticized by the defendants’ lawyer as it was previously prepared.
The court found them guilty of provoking the public to hatred and hostility, sentencing Mehmet Rasit Tukel, Sinan Adiyaman, Ayfer Horasan, Bulent Nazim Yilmaz, Dursun Yasar Ulutas, Funda Barlik Obuz, Mehmet Sezai Berber, Mustafa Tamer Goren, Selma Gongur and Seyhmuz Gokalp to 20 months imprisonment.
Hande Arpat was sentenced to three years, three months and 22 days imprisonment due to a charge of disseminating terrorist propaganda via her Twitter posts.
Sentencing met with condemnation
In response to the verdict, the TTB that vowed on its Twitter account to defend peace.
“We say it one more time, being against war is within the universal principles of medicine,” reads the TTB tweet.
“Doctors’ defense of human values will be written with dignity in the pages of history. As for those who judged and sentenced them, they will be remembered with shame,” the pro-Kurdish opposition Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) said in a statement.
What happened in Afrin
In January 2018 Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) together with Turkey-backed Free Syrian Army (T-FSA) launched a two-month offensive to eliminate People’s Protection Units (YPG).
The YPG is considered by Ankara to be an offshoot of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), an armed group which has waged a decades-long insurgency in Turkey.
YPG forms the central command structure of US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which delivered the Islamic State’s (ISIS) self-declared caliphate its final defeat early in 2019.
The full-scale air and ground Turkish campaign saw the killing of 289 civilians, more than 1500 US-backed Kurdish militants, and 46 Turkish soldiers, according to a Britain-based monitoring group, Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
According to the United Nations, the fighting displaced at least 137000 people.