The head of Turkey’s main medical union went on trial Friday on “terror” charges linked to her calls for a probe into the army’s alleged use of chemical weapons against Kurdish fighters in Iraq.
Sebnem Korur Fincanci was detained on October 26 after becoming one of the most prominent public figures to draw attention to reports that first surfaced in media outlets close to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
The militia said 17 of its fighters had died in Turkish chemical weapons attacks in the mountains and caves of northern Iraq.
The PKK has been waging a bloody insurgency against the Turkish state since the 1980s that has seen it listed as a terrorist organisation by Ankara and its Western allies.
The Turkish defence ministry called the allegations “slander” and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused Fincanci of “speaking the language of terrorism”.
Fincanci has been charged with disseminating “terror propaganda” — a crime that has seen past defendants sentenced to 13 years behind bars.
The court ruled that Fincanci should be kept in jail pending trial and set the next hearing for Thursday.
“Professor Sebnem is not alone!” her supporters chanted as she was being led from the Istanbul courtroom.
– ‘World is watching’ –
The 63-year-old forensic medicine expert entered the packed hearing holding a defiant fist in the air while her backers applauded and dozens of riot police looked on.
Fincanci once again called for “an effective investigation” into the alleged use of the weapons that included on-the-ground inspections and autopsies of the Kurdish fighters.
“As a human rights defender, I have a responsibility to defend freedom of expression and the public’s right to information,” she told the court.
Fincanci is known in Turkey as both a forensics expert and a human rights campaigner who openly speaks out against Erdogan’s government.
Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch issued a joint call with five other organisations for Fincanci’s release pending her trial.
German human rights commissioner Luise Amtsberg called Fincanci “one of Turkey’s bravest voices” who must be immediately released.
“Fincanci has dedicated her life to upholding human rights and dignities through her pioneering work documenting torture,” the New York-based Physicians for Human Rights campaign group added.
“The world is watching.”
But the chief prosecutor argued Friday that Fincanci “actively participated in propaganda activities of the PKK”.
Fincanci said her continued detention only helped bring broader attention to her calls for an independent probe into the Kurdish reports.
“Don’t think that being under arrest and in jail is tough for me,” she said moments before being remanded in custody.
“It’s actually a golden opportunity for a human rights advocate such as me.”