Coronavirus critics targeted in Turkey - Science Mag

The academic journal Science has reported that Turkish authorities are “using judicial harassment and administrative investigations to stifle criticism” of their response to the Coronavirus pandemic.

The journal reported that public health experts who publicly questioned the official government statistics on COVID-19 infections, have been the subject of legal complaints. 

Examples include Kayıhan Pala from Uludağ University, who has been accused of “misinforming the public” and “causing panic” by Bursa Governor Münir Karaloğlu. Pala’s university was asked by a prosecutor to investigate him, but the case was eventually dropped.

Other members of the Turkish Medical Association (TTB) to publicly voice concern have also seen investigations launched against them, including the heads of local chapters. In August, the TTB stated that its data showed that official figures were underreporting cases, and were not transparent. The Ministry of Health rejected the TTB claims.

In May, the Financial Times conducted an independent investigation looking at excess deaths in Ankara, which suggested that the real number of fatalities from COVID-19 could be  25%  higher than official figures.

TBB Chairman Prof. Sinan Adiyaman called for the government to “open more data for society’s access and be more transparent about the numbers”. Science said that Turkey has not released detailed Coronavirus data broken down by local area, and has ignored requests to provide demographic data on the pandemic. 

Science expressed concern about the ongoing investigation into Şanlıurfa Medical Chamber Co-chair Ömer Melik and general secretary Osman Yüksekyayla. The chamber had published Coronavirus figures on its social media account, as well as highlighting the deaths of medical workers, raising concerns over the spread of the virus in prisons and warning that medical staff faced equipment shortages.

Melik was told by police that they had received a government circular saying that only Health Ministry officials were authorised to share coronavirus-related information, Science said. However, when he asked to see the circular, he was refused.

Opposition figures have also joined medical professionals in questioning the  official government statistics. The Republican People’s Party (CHP) mayors of Ankara and Istanbul, Mansur Yavaş and Ekrem İmamoğlu have both accused the  government of covering up the extent of the Coronavirus crisis.