New York City, July 18 – Several world-renown scientists have expressed their concerns over the excessive use of tear gas and police force in the recent protests in Turkey. In a correspondence to be published in Science on July 19, twenty-five scientists, including four Nobel laureates, urged the Turkish government to treat peaceful protesters according to international law. On Thursday, July 18, the Turkish Medical Association (TTB), Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), the Transnational Work Group on Academic Liberty and Freedom of Research in Turkey (GIT – North America) and the primary authors of the Science article will hold a press conference at the New School University in New York City in order to draw attention to ongoing human rights violations in Turkey.
Nobel laureates Robert F. Curl (in Chemistry, 1996), Paul Greengard (in Physiology or Medicine, 2000), Roald Hoffmann (in Chemistry, 1981) and Richard R. Schrock (in Chemistry, 2005) joined numerous other noted scientists to address the ongoing events in Turkey from a scientific perspective. They document how the Turkish government’s excessive and unlawful use of force against protesters and medical professionals has led to human casualties and injuries of unprecedented proportions. Such a correspondence among science and medical professionals is viewed as an indicator of the severity of human rights violations and the urgency to take action.
Triggered by the brutal crackdown on peaceful protesters on May 31, approximately 2.5 million people joined demonstrations in 79 out of 81 cities of Turkey according to government estimates. The Turkish government has responded to the mass protests with increasing use of tear gas and police violence, resulting in more injuries and casualties. According to latest data released by the Turkish Medical Association on July 15, 8163 people have so far been injured during these protests; of these 63 are severely wounded and three are in critical condition. 106 individuals have suffered head traumas. Eleven people have lost an eye and five have been killed.
Hospitals and makeshift infirmaries have also been targeted by the police with tear gas fired into confined spaces where the injured were being treated’. Medical supplies have been confiscated by the police and many health-care professionals have been taken into custody. The government has also put the Turkish Medical Association (TTB) under extensive pressure, especially through the arrest of the Secretary General of TTB-Istanbul, to conceal data regarding injuries and deaths during protests. Nevertheless, the TTB has remained the only reliable source concerning this information. In a clear breach of patient confidentiality, the Ministry of Health went as far as to demand patient information from medical facilities, including the names and health conditions of patients injured during the protests, and the identity of the healthcare workers who volunteered for these services. These unconstitutional demands by the government have prevented thousands of injured protesters from seeking much-needed medical attention due to the fear of blacklisting by the Erdogan administration.
The Turkish Medical Association has conducted a web-based survey with 11,115 participants to get a better understanding of the complications experienced by individuals exposed to chemical agents. This investigation revealed that the majority of individuals affected were women and young people between the ages of 20-29. Seven percent of all injuries resulted from direct and short-range firing of tear gas canisters at protesters, including shots to critical regions such as the face, head and chest. Approximately 68 percent of those affected by tear gas were exposed to extremely high levels, however only five percent of all individuals exposed to these chemical agents have sought treatment.
The Ministry of Interior and the Turkish National Police have been unresponsive to requests to disclose the types and constituents of chemicals used, even though such information is vital for the effective treatment of those affected. The Chamber of Chemical Engineers in Istanbul has recently carried out a study testing various types of tear gas on mice and reported the lethal concentration and dose of these chemical agents. Given the short-range and long-term exposure of protesters to these chemical agents, it is critical that their health is monitored on a continuous basis. Since the medical implications of uncontrolled and excessive exposure to chemical agents are under-investigated and potentially lethal, there is an urgent need to stop the use of these agents.
Various non-governmental organizations have repeatedly voiced concerns over the excessive use of force by the police as well as the unconstitutional actions of the government. The World Medical Association has supported these efforts through letters addressed to the Prime Minister, condemning the use of excessive force and chemical agents against the public. On July 1, Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) sent a letter to the Minister of Health to express their deep concern over the ministry’s efforts to pass legislation that would prevent medical personnel from providing emergency care to anyone in need, including demonstrators. On July 12, PHR, the World Medical Association, German Medical Association and the Standing Committee of European Doctors sent a letter to the Turkish Prime Minister calling upon him and his government to end human rights violations including the use of tear gas and unlawful acts against medical personnel. In this letter, the international community is asked to ban the sale of tear gas to Turkey and ensure that policy decisions regarding human rights protections and respect for medical neutrality are guaranteed.
In the meantime, over 4,000 academics from around the world hailing from more than 500 academic institutions in about 70 countries have signed a declaration to condemn the excessive police brutality on peaceful demonstrators and have expressed their support for the free exercise of constitutional rights. The declaration prepared by ‘International Solidarity with Gezi Boston Group: Bostonbullular’ and ‘The Transnational Work Group of Academic Liberty and Freedom of Research in Turkey (GIT-NA)’, condemns the immense violence practiced by the Turkish police that resulted in casualties and thousands of injured; the improper detention of the protesters who are using their constitutional rights; the violation of human rights during arrests; censorship in the mainstream media and the denigrating and marginalizing discourse of the government. The signatories emphasize that freedom of thought and expression, freedom of conscience and any other differences in nondiscriminatory opinions are essential in any democratic society.
As academics, scientists and intellectuals; we once again condemn the reckless and excessive use of force and chemical agents against peaceful demonstrators and health personnel in Turkey. We demand that the government immediately cease the use of these chemical agents against peaceful protesters to avoid further health problems and deaths.
Press Conference Details
Location: The New School, Wolff Conference Room, 6 East 16th St., 11th Floor, New York, NY 10011
Date & Time: July 18, 7pm
The Turkish Medical Association (TTB) Turkish Medical Association (TTB) is the organized voice of physicians in Turkey under the constitutional guarantee. %80 (83.000) of country’s physicians are members of TTB. Main income source of TTB is membership fees and it does not get any aid from government. TTB was founded to protect and improve the public health conditions in Turkey and advocates equal, accessible and high quality health care for everyone. TTB investigates malpractice cases in order to protect patient’s rights and professional ethics. TTB protects the morals and rights of profession and members. TTB is one of the founder members of Associations of Health Profession Groups (Turkish Dental Association, Turkish Pharmacists’ Association, Turkish Veterinary Medical Association). At the international level, TTB is the member of the forum that is comprised of World Medical Association, The Association for Medical Education in Europe and World Health Organization and participates in its meetings as an active member. See more on: http://www.ttb.org.tr/
Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is an independent organization that uses medicine and science to stop mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. It was founded in 1986 on the idea that health professionals, with their specialized skills, ethical duties, and credible voices, are uniquely positioned to stop human rights violations. See more on: http://physiciansforhumanrights.org/
Transnational Work Group on Academic Liberty and Freedom of Research in Turkey (GIT North America) is composed of academics from Turkey living in the United States and aims to raise awareness and offer documentation on “Academic Liberty and Freedom of Research in Turkey.” (see more on: http://gitamerica.blogspot.com/)