World support for sentenced Turkish doctors

Australian Medical Association/AusMed

The World Medical Association has delivered an open message of support to all Turkish doctors, in particular to those sentenced to prison for declaring in a press release that “war is a public health problem”.

The WMA has sent it on behalf of millions of physicians globally.

In an open letter, WMA leaders denounced what it has described as a pervasive obstruction campaign by the Turkish government against doctors.

The letter declared: “We are shocked and deeply disturbed by the recent decision of the Criminal Court of Ankara which condemned TMA’s Central Council members to prison sentences for their call for peace. This is pure aberration.”

The public statement, titled War is a Public Health Problem, was issued as a press release on January 24, 2018 by 11 doctors as members of the Central Council of Turkish Medical Association.

It drew attention to the public health implications of war and stressed the mission of doctors to defend life and commit to peace. The 11 doctors were subsequently charged with “propagating the terror organisation” and “provoking public hatred and hostility”. They found guilty and sentenced to 20 months in prison. They are currently appealing against the sentence.

WMA Chair of Council Dr Frank Montgomery and Secretary General Dr Otmar Kloiber, in their message to Turkish physicians, write: “Like you, we consider that physicians have a duty to denounce violence and alert governments to the dramatic immediate and long-term health effects of warfare and armed conflicts. Expressing an opinion in support of peace is not a criminal offence in a democracy. Quite the contrary, it is an essential human right enshrined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights that Turkey ratified in 2003.”

They accuse the Turkish State of trying to silence the voice of its physicians and add: ”We are aware that many physicians are the target of a pervasive obstruction campaign run under the pretext of a state of emergency, which prevents you from practising your profession in adequate conditions. Not only does it violate your right to work, but it also deprives millions of people from access to health as a result.

“Targeting physicians amounts to targeting the Turkish population with increased exposure to diseases, suffering and premature deaths, as well as insecurity and poverty. We therefore seriously doubt that the current state of emergency serves the right purpose.

“As physicians, we all took an oath to protect human life before any other interest. Our values are based on medical ethics and include the respect for autonomy, non-maleficence, beneficence and justice. Be assured that we are in solidarity with you in protecting those ethical standards from any abuse.”

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