The head of the Turkish Medical Association was found guilty by a court of spreading "terror organization propaganda" after a trial that human rights organizations have criticized as an effort to intimidate government opponents.
Sebnem Korur Fincanci was given a sentence of almost three years in jail by an Istanbul court on Wednesday, but they also ordered her freed from pretrial custody while she files an appeal.
The 63-year-old Fincanci was detained in October and accused of spreading false information on behalf of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). Following a TV appearance in which she demanded an impartial inquiry into claims that Turkish forces had used chemical weapons against Kurdish rebels in northern Iraq, she was detained.
According to the PKK, 17 of its militants perished in Turkish chemical weapons operations in the northern Iraqi highlands last year.
The most recent activist to be found guilty in Turkey under its extensive "anti-terrorist" legislation is Fincanci. The forensic specialist served as head of the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey and has devoted a significant portion of her career to documenting torture and other forms of cruel treatment.
Fincanci refuted claims that she used propaganda during the interview during her trial by stating that she provided a professional perspective.
The accusations arose from an interview she gave to the pro-Kurdish TV source Medya Haber, in which she discussed a film that was allegedly used to protest the use of chemical weapons. While speculating on the possibility of a harmful gas discharge, she also urged for an "effective inquiry."
On Wednesday, Fincanci said in court that she did not anticipate a fair trial. She highlighted a survey conducted in Turkey that revealed: "one in two individuals feel that people are in jail based on what they think."
She was cited as stating by the Media and Law Studies Association, a court-monitoring organization, "In our society, murdering people is not enough to put people in jail, but offering your scientific opinion leads individuals to go to prison."
Turkey rejects the use of chemical weapons.
Turkish authorities have refuted claims that their nation has employed chemical weapons, adamantly stating that their military is devoid of such equipment.
Since 1984, the PKK has been leading an armed struggle against the Turkish government. The United States, Turkey, and the European Union all label the group as a "terrorist organization."
Reactions to Fincanci's remarks have been negative. She was charged with defaming Turkey's military forces and disrespecting her nation "by using the language of the terrorist organization," according to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
The Turkish Medical Association and other professional organizations will be exonerated of being "supporters of the terrorist organization," he promised to initiate procedures to do so. The justice minister said in October that new rules were being developed by his department.
Further, Devlet Bahceli, the head of a group affiliated with Erdogan's government, urged that Fincanci lose her Turkish citizenship and that the group be disbanded.
Amid the COVID-19 outbreak, the group, which has roughly 110,000 members across Turkey, attracted the wrath of the authorities by challenging official statistics and criticizing some of the responses taken.
On Wednesday, the courtroom was full as an EU delegation, human rights organizations, and Fincanci supporters watched the trial.
Ole Johan Bakke of the Standing Committee of European Doctors said the organization was "extremely worried" about the Turkish government and authorities' ongoing persecution of the Turkish Medical Association before the hearing.
The World Medical Association appealed for Fincanci's prompt acquittal and referred to the prosecution's evidence against her as "unfounded, illegal, and intolerable."
Fincanci was given a jail term of two years, eight months, and fifteen days by an Istanbul court. She is anticipated to challenge the judgment.