ANKARA (Reuters) – A Turkish prosecutor ordered the detention of 11 senior members of the Turkish Medical Association (TTB) on Tuesday, including its chairman, after the body criticized Turkey’s military operation in northern Syria.
The prosecutor said police in Ankara had started legal proceedings on Tuesday morning and search-and-detention operations were carried out in several provinces. Media reports said nine of the medics had been detained.
Turkish authorities have cracked down on any expression of dissent over the air and ground offensive against the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia in Syria’s Afrin region. More than 300 people have been detained for social media posts criticizing the campaign since it began 10 days ago.
The association’s lawyer Ziynet Ozcelik said that the doctors faced accusations of “propaganda in support of a terrorist organization, and provoking the public”. Ozcelik said it was the first time in the association’s history that all its executive members had been ordered detained.
The association had denounced the cross-border operation into Syria’s Afrin last week, saying: “No to war, peace immediately”. That prompted President Tayyip Erdogan to accuse the union of treason.
“Believe me, they are not intellectuals at all, they are a gang of slaves. They are the servants of imperialism,” he told AK Party members in the northern province of Amasya on Sunday.
“This ‘No to war’ cry by this mob … is nothing other than the outburst of the betrayal in their souls … This is real filth, this is the honorless stance that should be said ‘no’ to,” he said.
Turkey’s Health Minister Ahmet Demircan was quoted by Hurriyet newspaper as saying the union had no right to make such a statement and added that the health ministry had filed a lawsuit to have the union’s administration removed.
“It (TTB) has made a big mistake. The necessary actions will be taken in accordance with the law,” Demircan was quoted as saying.
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The crackdown on top medics drew swift criticism from an international medical organization and rights group Amnesty International, who called for protection for the members and an immediate end to the legal proceedings.
The World Medical Association (WMA) said its President Yoshitake Yokokura condemned the detentions as well as threats of violence made against the doctors.
“We call on the Turkish authorities to immediately release the physician leaders and to end the campaign of intimidation,” the WMA, which represents 111 national medical associations across the world, said in a statement.
Amnesty said members of the TTB were “subjected to threats of violence”, and called on people to submit appeals to the Ankara governor’s office to provide additional security measures for the union and its members.
Separately, the Furkan Education and Service Foundation, a group that runs Islamic schools, said several of its members had been arrested. Those detained included the group’s Chairman Alparslan Kuytul, who had made remarks deemed to be criticizing Turkey’s military offensive.
(Reporting by Gulsen Solaker and Ezgi Erkoyun, Ece Toksabay and Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Ece Toksabay and Peter Graff)