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Türkiye: UN Experts Call For Release And End Of Judicial Harassment Of Anti-torture Expert

GENEVA (8 November 2022) – UN experts* today called on Türkiye to stop using counter-terrorism legislation to intimidate human rights defenders and immediately release recently detained Sebnem Korur Fincancı, a recognised forensic medical practitioner and anti-torture expert.

Fincancı, who helped develop the United Nations’ reference standards on the investigation and documentation of torture cases (the Istanbul Protocol), was arrested at her house on 26 October on unclear grounds, believed to be in retaliation for her public comments calling for investigations into the alleged use of chemical weapons and associated deaths by the Turkish military.

“Dr. Fincancı’s arrest appears part of a deliberate pattern of applying counter-terrorism legislation to discredit human rights defenders and organisations and interrupt their vital human rights and medical work,” the experts said.

“We have documented many cases where counter-terrorism legislation and other criminal provisions have been used to harass, arrest, detain and convict civil society actors in Türkiye, including Dr Fincancı, on spurious grounds.”

Such attacks which aim to shrink safe civic space undermine the rule of law and encroach upon fundamental freedoms and democratic values, the experts said.

“Detention pending investigation beyond an initial period of interview is an exceptional measure and must be subject to judicial authorisation as to its continuing lawfulness and proportionality,” they said.

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“Human rights defenders and medical practitioners’ ability to speak truth to power must be protected. Their role in exposing human rights violations is one of the cornerstones of democratic societies, and otherwise exercising rights of freedom of expression and association, are protected rights under international human rights law.”

The experts urged the Turkish authorities to immediately and unconditionally release Fincancı, and other civil society actors detained for politically motivated purposes, ensure their access to fundamental safeguards, and protect their mental and physical integrity, in and outside of detention.

Türkiye is a party, among other treaties, to the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, which it ratified in 1988. Such ratification obligates States parties to take all measures to prevent torture and similar ill-treatment or punishment, and to investigate and prosecute related crimes. Threats of arrest and imprisonment and judicial intimidation cause high levels of distress and anxiety, which could amount to psychological inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment in violation of international law. Türkiye is also a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which it ratified in 2003, and which prohibits arbitrary arrest or detention.

The UN experts have expressed their views regarding this case to the Government of Türkiye and requested the authorities to immediately take interim measures to protect the mental and physical integrity of Dr. Fincancı and end the judicial harassment of those who defend the rights of others.

*The experts: Alice Jill Edwards, Special Rapporteur on Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment; Mary Lawlor, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders; Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism; Tlaleng Mofokeng, Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, and Morris Tidball-Binz, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions.

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