Turkey approves controversial medical aid bill despite opposition

ISTANBUL (AFP) - A controversial medical bill that makes it a crime for doctors to provide emergency first aid without government authorisation came into force in Turkey on Saturday despite an outcry from rights groups.

Under the legislation that was approved by President Abdullah Gul on Friday, those convicted could be imprisoned for up to three years and face fines of nearly US$1 million (S$1.28 million).

Critics fear it could be used to bar doctors and medical workers from treating protesters wounded in anti-government demonstrations as reportedly happened during mass street protests in June last year.

The US-based Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) slammed the legislation as another attempt by the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to quash dissent.

"Passing a bill that criminalises emergency care and punishes those who care for injured protesters is part of the Turkish government's relentless effort to silence any opposing voices," PHR senior medical advisor Vincent Iacopino said.

"This kind of targeting of the medical community is not only repugnant, but puts everyone's health at risk," he said in a statement on the PHR website.

Under the legislation submitted by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), medical professionals could face up to three years in prison and be fined up to US$985,000.

At least six people were killed and some 8,000 injured in the unrest that swept the country in June, according to the Turkish doctors' association, which repeatedly accused the government of preventing medics from treating those hurt.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.