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Turkey doctor gets 15 months for revealing pollution cancer risk

Environmentalists protested against a gold mine in Turkey earlier this year [Getty]

Date of publication: 27 September, 2019

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The whistle-blower exposed a government study detailing high cancer rates linked to industrial pollution in Turkey.

A Turkish scientist was on Thursday sentenced to 15 months in prison for revealing the cancer risk posed by toxic pollution in western Turkey.

An Istanbul court found the whistle-blower guilty of "disclosing classified information", a verdict described as a "travesty of justice" by Amnesty International. 

Dr Bulent Sik last year revealed the results of a study carried out with other scientists for Turkey's Ministry of Health between 2011 and 2015.

The study linked the toxicity in soil, water and food to high rates of cancer in several western provinces.

After realising the government was not acting on the study's findings, he wrote articles for Turkish daily Cumhuriyet detailing the findings.

The study "clearly revealed the extent to which water resources were contiminated by toxic materials," Dr Sik told reporters after the verdict. 

"The court ruling shows that the results of a study that directly concerns public health can be hidden. This is unacceptable," he added.

Dr Sik remained free on Thursday pending appeal. 

Rights groups and environmentalists have repeatedly accused the government of failing to enforce environmental regulations amid a rapid industrial boom in many parts of the country.

Thousands of activists protested against the construction of a Canada-owned gold mine in western Turkey earlier this year.

The environmentalists alleged that the company had chopped down four times the number of trees it said it would in an environment impact report.

Eco-activists also claimed the gold mine project would involve the use of cyanide, which would contaminate the soil and waters of a nearby dam.

"The case against Bulent Sik has been, from the start, a travesty of justice," Amnesty's Turkey researcher Andrew Gardner told AFP.

"Instead of pursuing a whistleblower through the court, the Turkish authorities should be investigating this important public health issue." 

Amnesty said it would consider Dr Sik a prisoner of conscience if he was jailed. 

Turkey has seen a wide-ranging crackdown on many aspects of free speech, especially since a failed coup against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in 2016. 

Dr Sik had faced up to 12 years in prison, but the court found him not guilty of "obtaining classified information". 

Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg and 15 other young eco-activists from around the world on Monday filed a legal complaint with the United Nations against Turkey and four other countries.

Germany, France, Brazil, Argentina and Turkey are accused of failing to uphold their obligations under the Convention on the Rights of the Child by not undertaking timely and adequate action against climate change.

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