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For Immediate Release

PHR Condemns Baseless Criminal Conviction of Turkish Doctor

New York, NY - 04/24/2017

A doctor and human rights defender in southeastern Turkey was convicted today for treating alleged members of anti-government Kurdish armed groups. A three-judge panel handed down a conviction against Dr. Serdar Küni, a member of the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey, who was arrested and detained last October. Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), which sent a delegation to attend Dr. Küni’s trial in the Turkish city of Şırnak, said his conviction is unwarranted and a blatant attack against health professionals who are providing health care in Turkey’s restive southeast.

“This conviction punishes a health professional for merely doing his job,” said PHR’s director of research and investigations Marianne Møllmann. “Dr. Küni is duty-bound to provide treatment to all patients, regardless of their identity, affiliations, or beliefs. Those who provide medical care are protected under Turkish and international law. This conviction undermines those protections and is a direct attack on the provision of health care for the long-persecuted Kurdish minority.”

Dr. Küni has lived and worked in the city of Cizre, which last year was the site of intense fighting between Turkish security forces and opposition Kurdish fighters. Dr. Küni was arrested and detained last fall, accused of providing support to a terrorist organization. As part of today’s conviction, Dr. Küni was sentenced to four years and two months in prison, though his attorneys said he would immediately appeal.

Earlier this year, PHR and a group of international medical organizations sent a letter to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan demanding the charges against Dr. Küni be dropped. In that letter, PHR cited Dr. Küni’s persecution as part of a broader pattern of arrests, detentions, and dismissals of hundreds of doctors and other health professionals after fighting broke out in Turkey’s southeast in July 2015.

“This conviction is part of a wider crackdown against health professionals, who have routinely been harassed and intimidated for carrying out their professional duties,” said PHR’s medical director Dr. Vincent Iacopino. “Treating patients who oppose Turkey’s government is not a crime. Dr. Küni should have never been arrested in the first place, and we demand that the appellate court drop these baseless charges.”

PHR also reiterated today that Dr. Küni’s trial failed to meet international fair trial standards. At a previous hearing in March, PHR observed four witnesses say they had been tortured in custody and forced to sign statements against Dr. Küni. International law prohibits the use of evidence elicited by torture, ill-treatment, or coercion.

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is a New York-based advocacy organization that uses science and medicine to prevent mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. Learn more here.

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