Turkish medical union chief Sebnem Korur Fincanci helped draft UN rules for documenting torture
A Turkish court on Wednesday released an internationally respected medic who outraged President Recep Tayyip Erdogan by backing a probe into the army's alleged use of chemical weapons in Iraq.
Turkish Medical Association head Sebnem Korur Fincanci was detained and jailed in October for using a television interview to highlight claims that first surfaced in media close to the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).
The militia alleged that 17 of its fighters had died in Turkish chemical weapons attacks in the mountains of northern Iraq that month.
The PKK is considered a terrorist organisation by Ankara and its Western allies for waging a bloody insurgency since 1984.
Its media outlets are banned in Turkey and its claims are uniformly rejected by Ankara.
An Istanbul criminal court on Wednesday found Fincanci guilty of disseminating "terrorist propaganda" -- a charge that could have seen her jailed for seven and a half years.
But it sentenced her to less than three years in prison and ordered her immediate release while she appeals.
The judgement delivers a rare setback for prosecutors in a country where thousands of government critics and political opponents -- many of them Kurds -- languish behind bars.
- 'A surprise' -
"We thought they would keep her in jail," defence Lawyer Turkey Meric Eyuboglu told AFP after the trial.
"We were preparing for the worst, and this is a surprise. We are happy for her."
Fincanci is a forensic medicine expert and rights defenders who helped draft a 1999 protocol that the United Nations took as the basis for its work on documenting torture.
Turkish anti-riot police mobilised outside the court in Istanbul
Her decision to add weight to the PKK allegations infuriated the Turkish army and was personally condemned by Erdogan.
The Turkish leader accused Fincanci of "speaking the language of terrorism" while the defence ministry called her comments "slander".
The trial was accompanied by stepped up security measures and a heavy riot police presence both inside and outside the Istanbul courthouse.
Fincanci told the court during three days of hearings that she did not expect a fair verdict after coming under personal attack from Erdogan.
She cited a Turkish poll showing that "one out of every two people believes that people are in prison based on what they think".
Fincanci's medical association has a history of supporting opposition causes and sparring with Erdogan's government.
- 'Very happy' -
It criticised the health ministry's handling of the coronavirus pandemic and staged protests demanding better pay.
The union says that all 11 of its executive committee members are now under investigation for potential "membership of a terrorist organisation".
Fincanci's medical association has a history of supporting opposition causes and sparring with Erdogan's government
Fincanci herself was briefly detained in 2016 for appearing as a guest editor for a small newspaper read by Turkey's Kurdish community.
But her collaborations with forensic experts working with the United Nations in places such as Bosnia drew international attention to the trial.
"I am very happy now that professor Sebnem Fincanci is released," Standing Committee of European Doctors vice president Ole Johan Bakke told AFP after the trial.
"But she still has a sentence hanging over her," he added.
"We have to work very closely with the Turkish Medical Association to win that match as well."
The Turkish association vowed to clear Fincanci's name fully.
"Our struggle will continue," it tweeted after the verdict.
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