Turkey Detains Forensic Scientist and Peace Academic

Photo credit: Bianet


On October 26, 2022, Sebnem Korur Fincanci, internationally renowned professor emeritus of forensic medicine and the current chair of Turkish Medical Association (TTB), was detained in Istanbul for “spreading terrorist propaganda” and “insulting the Turkish nation, the state of the Republic of Turkey, state institutions and organs.” The 63-year-old was taken into custody during an early morning home raid and was immediately taken to the courthouse. After a three-hour interrogation, the Justice of the Peace court remanded her in custody.


The arrest was ordered by the Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office in Ankara, following Korur Fincanci’s public interview on October 20. During the interview, which was streamed on a pro-Kurdish media channel, Korur Fincanci shared her professional opinion as a forensic scientist. In response to claims that the Turkish army has used chemical weapons against the PKK militants in Northern Iraq, where Turkey has been conducting ‘special military operations,’ she called for an investigation by an independent, third-party commission. Her comments have triggered unexpected public reaction, stigmatizing her for dishonoring the Turkish military and state. Government officials, including President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, accused her of "slander." The Minister of Justice Bekir Bozdag announced their intentions to reform the administrative structure of the TBB and dismiss Korur Fincanci from her position.


Her arrest was strongly condemned by the World Medical Association, Physicians for Human Rights, Amnesty International, and German Medical Association, among many others. Civil society organizations, Turkish doctors and local branches of the TTB organized across Turkey. During the protests in Istanbul, at least 57 people were detained.


In the past years, the TTB and Korur Fincanci as its chair have been targeted by President Erdogan for criticizing the AKP government, especially in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic management. The TTB is the professional association of healthcare professionals in Turkey, which regulates the standards of medical profession and ethics, and protects the rights of healthcare professionals. According to the joint statement of Human Rights Association (IHD) and Human Rights Foundation of Turkey (TIHV), “the detention process took place as a result of the pressure and intervention of political power on the judiciary, with its stigmatizing, discrediting and even criminalizing discourses for days.”


We at the Endangered Scholars Worldwide stand in solidarity with those who strive for their legally entrenched and internationally protected rights and freedoms. ESW condemns the Turkish government’s treatment of Sebnem Korur Fincanci and urges her immediate release and reinstatement to her position. We strongly condemn the recurring attacks on academic freedom and the autonomy of higher education institutions in Turkey. The Turkish government’s attacks on professional organizations and scholars criminalize freedoms of speech and of association, as well as it discredits scientific knowledge. ESW urges the Turkish authorities to respect and guarantee the autonomy of scholarly knowledge and freedom of speech in Turkey and to implement the provisions and principles of human rights as specified in international conventions and treaties, and to drop any charges against the accused arising from their nonviolent exercise of the rights to expression, association, and assembly.