Turkish medic awaits sentence in chemical arms trial

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ISTANBUL: A top Turkish medic delivered her final statement Wednesday in a politically-charged trial linked to her call for a probe into the army's alleged use of chemical arms in Iraq.

Turkish Medical Association head Sebnem Korur Fincanci was detained and jailed in October for using a television interview to highlight claims that first surfaced in media close to the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).

The militia alleged that 17 of its fighters had died in Turkish chemical weapons attacks in the mountains of northern Iraq that month.

The group is considered a terrorist organisation by Ankara and its Western allies for waging a bloody insurgency since 1984.

Its media outlets are banned in Turkey and its claims are uniformally rejected by Ankara.

But Fincanci is a veteran forensic medicine expert who has collaborated with international organisations on past investigations into possible military crimes.

Her television interview infuriated the Turkish army and was personally condemned by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The Turkish leader accused Fincanci of “speaking the language of terrorism” while the defence ministry called her comments “slander”.

The 63-year-old could be jailed for up to 7.5 years if found guilty of promoting “terrorism propaganda”.

Her trial has been accompanied by stepped up security measures and a heavy riot police presence both inside and outside the Istanbul courthouse.

Hundreds of Fincanci's supporters from the medical union and the public at large have been trying to squeeze into the tiny courtroom to witness each of the trial's three hearings.

Fincanci told the court on Wednesday that she did not expect a fair trial.

She cited a Turkish poll showing that “one out of every two people believes that people are in prison based on what they think”.

“In this country, killing people is not enough to keep people in prison, but giving your scientific opinion causes people to go to prison,“ the MLSA court monitor group quoted her as saying.

'Blatant abuse of justice'

Fincanci's medical association has a history of supporting opposition causes and sparring with Erdogan's government.

It criticised the health ministry's handling of the coronavirus pandemic and staged protests demanding better pay.

The union says that all 11 of its executive committee members are now under investigation for potential “membership of a terrorist organisation”.

Fincanci herself was briefly detained in 2016 for appearing as a guest editor for a small newspaper read by Turkey's Kurdish community.

But her collaborations with forensic experts working with the United Nations in places such as Bosnia has drawn international attention to the trial.

German human rights commissioner Luise Amtsberg called Fincanci “one of Turkey’s bravest voices” and top global rights groups have demanded her release.

“Prosecuting a forensic expert for calling for an independent investigation into the alleged use of banned chemical weapons is a blatant abuse of the criminal justice system,“ Amnesty International said this week.

“Rather than confecting groundless accusations against one of Turkey’s s foremost forensic physicians, the authorities should allow her to carry out her work freely and without fear of reprisals,“ it said. - AFP

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