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Doctors Arrested as Turkish Crackdown Widens on Dissent

  • Dorian Jones

Demonstrators scuffle with riot police during a protest against the detention of the head of the Turkish Medical Association and other leaders of the doctors' union, in Ankara, Turkey, Jan. 30, 2018.

Nine members of Turkey's medical association have been detained for voicing opposition to the ongoing Turkish-led military incursion into Syria against a Kurdish militia group. The arrests are part of a widening crackdown on dissent over the operation.

Ankara's prosecutor's office issued arrest warrants for 11 leading members of the Turkish Medical Association, including its head, Rasit Tukel.

Police raided the homes of the doctors early Tuesday morning. The organization's offices across the country have also been targeted.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday labeled the association's members as traitors and "servants of imperialism." The remarks were in response to the association calling for an end to the ongoing military incursion into Syria, and the doctors raising humanitarian concerns for civilians trapped by fighting.

FILE - Families take shelter in basements in the Kurdish town of Jandairis near the Syrian-Turkish border, west of the city of Afrin, Jan. 26, 2018.
FILE - Families take shelter in basements in the Kurdish town of Jandairis near the Syrian-Turkish border, west of the city of Afrin, Jan. 26, 2018.

Nearly two weeks ago, Turkish-led forces entered the Syrian enclave of Afrin to oust the YPG Kurdish militia, which is a key ally of the United States in the fight against Islamic State. Ankara accuses the YPG of supporting a Kurdish insurgency inside Turkey.

Reaction to detentions

The doctors' detention has drawn swift political condemnation.

Member of parliament Selin Sayek Boke of the opposition CHP, speaking outside the headquarters of the medical association, criticized the government.

"This is an attack on freedom of expression and on those who call for peace and it is an attack done by those who want to kill the culture of living together in this country," Boke said.

International human rights groups have also criticized the detentions.

The London-based Amnesty International's Turkey representative, Andrew Gardner, tweeted the government should be protecting the association, rather than detaining doctors from their beds on false propaganda charges.

Growing crackdown

The medical association is one of the country's most prominent nongovernmental organizations, with more than 80,000 members. The arrest of its leading members is part of a growing crackdown on dissent over the ongoing Syrian operation.

The Turkish Interior Ministry announced Monday that more than 300 people, including four journalists, have been detained under the country's anti-terror laws for social media postings criticizing the operation.

Erdogan said last week all dissent would be crushed.

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