Prof. Dr. Şebnem Korur-Fincancı, the President of the Union of Turkey’s Medical Associations (TBB) and a forensic medicine expert, was released after two and a half months of detention.
Fincancı had been on trial for the offence of “making propaganda for a terrorist organization” and the third hearing of the trial was held today at the 24th High Criminal Court of İstanbul.
The Court sentenced Korur Fincancı to 2 years, 8 months and 15 days of imprisonment for the crime of “making propaganda for a terrorist organization” and ruled to release her from prison on bail.
Following her comments on the images regarding the alleged use of chemical weapons in military operations carried out by the Turkish Armed Forces in the Iraqi Kurdistan Region, which were aired in October 2022 by the Kurdish television Medya Haber based in Europe, Korur Fincancı was first targeted on social media and then arrested.
Security barricades in front of the courthouse
In this hearing too Fincancı was brought to the court surrounded by a wall of military police.
Present at the hearing were a large crowd of medical doctors, rights defenders and journalists, as well as PEN Norway rapporteur for the hearing, representatives from the Human Rights Watch (HRW), European Doctors (CPME) and FIDH, the German Consul General, and representatives from the EU Delegation and from the consulates of Netherlands, USA and Sweden. The courtroom proved to be too small for the observers and lawyers.
Plain-clothes policemen were also present in the courtroom. During the hearing, the defence statements were interrupted by the sound of police radios.
The Court announced that the lawyers’ request for recusal was rejected. Nahit Eren, the President of the Diyarbakır Bar Association stated that the reasons for the refusal were unclear, and that the court violated the right to a fair trial with practices such as the way the order was maintained in the courtroom and the Court’s decision to limit the number of defence lawyers to three.
Lawyer Özkan Yücel, the former President of the İzmir Bar Association, also stated that the courthouse entrance was blocked by the security barricades in an attempt to restrict citizens’ access to the courthouse and the courtroom, which in turn restricted the right of defence. Yücel also reacted against the prosecutor who kept checking his phone and did not listen to the statements. Throughout the hearing, the prosecutor busied himself with his phone and with the keyboard of the computer in front of him.
For the third time, the lawyer of the Ministry of National Defence, who was present in the courtroom, requested to become a party in the case. The court rejected all requests.
Lawyers: Not a legal but a political case
When Şebnem Korur Fincancı requested to speak, the president of the Court said, “You have been given the floor in the previous hearing, but anyway let’s give it again.”
Fincancı started her speech by thanking the people in the courtroom and said, “The fact that no one except the government could use the word “chemical weapons” is the proof that a climate of fear has been created. But fear is no remedy to death, Your Honor.”
Lawyers Öztürk Türkdoğan, Hülya Yıldırım and Meriç Eyüboğlu stated that this was a political case without any elements of crime. They submitted to the court the precedent ECtHR and Constitutional Court judgments, the case law of the Court of Cassation and various Venice Commission opinions regarding the unlawfulness of Fincancı’s arrest on charges of making propaganda for a terrorist organization. They requested the Court to rule that the case was unconstitutional.
After the lawyers’ statements, the judge said, “We will end the trial, we will finish the hearing,” and asked Fincancı to make her last statements. Lawyers objected to this and stated that their request for an unconstitutionality decision required an interim ruling by the Court, and that the judge tried to impose a sentence without listening to what happened at the hearing.
In her final statement Fincancı said, “This is not a legal case, it is a political case. It is a case bent on destroying the TTB, democratic principles, and the will of the society to claim its rights.”
After the defences, the Court adjourned the hearing. After the break, the Court ruled to sentence Fincancı to 2 years, 8 months and 15 days of imprisonment on charges of making propaganda for a terrorist organization. Considering the term she already served in prison and the term she was sentenced to serve, the Court decided to release Fincancı. The Court also decided to apply Article 53 of the Turkish Penal Code. Accordingly, if the verdict against Korur Fincancı is upheld, Fincancı will not be able to practice her profession as a doctor and she will not be able to serve as the president of the TTB.
As PEN Norway, although we are happy to see Şebnem Korur Fincancı released, we strongly condemn the sentence that disregards her freedom of expression and that of society as a whole in Turkey. Following the objection of Korur Fincancı’s defence lawyers, we hope that the higher court will hand down a decision that will support and protect freedom of expression.