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End persecution of colleagues overseas: AMA

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The AMA is urging Prime Minister Tony Abbott to bring pressure to bear on the Turkish and Sudanese governments over the persecution of medical professionals, including a young mother of two facing execution.

AMA President A/Professor Brian Owler has written to Mr Abbott calling on him to intervene over the fate of young Sudanese doctor Merian Yeyha Ibrahim, who is being held on death row on charges of apostasy and adultery.

In what A/Professor Owler said was a barbaric violation of human rights, Dr Ibrahim was imprisoned in August last year after being convicted of adultery, apostasy (abandoning a belief or principle), for having married a Christian, asserting that she is Christian, not Muslim, and for refusing to recant her faith.

She was raised by her mother as an Orthodox Christian but under Sudanese law a child must follow the father’s religion. It has meant that her marriage to Daniel Wani, a Christian, has not been officially recognised.

Dr Ibrahim was sentenced to 100 lashes for adultery, and condemned to death for apostasy. Adding to the cruelty of her treatment, she was imprisoned while pregnant and recently gave birth to her daughter while incarcerated, A/Professor Owler said. Her 20-month-old son is also in prison with her.

“She is a prisoner of conscience, not a criminal, and should be released immediately,” the AMA President said.

Dr Ibrahim’s case has already drawn international attention, with numerous governments and organisations including the World Medical Association (WMA) and the British Medical Association demanding that her convictions be overturned and she be released.

Under Sudanese law, a woman sentenced to death is allowed to nurse her child for two years after birth before an execution can proceed, and lawyers are appealing her conviction.

A/Professor Owler has also urged Mr Abbott to pressure Turkish authorities to abandon legal action being taken against two doctors who provided emergency treatment for protestors injured during anti-government demonstrations last year.

The doctors, Selcan Yuksel and Erenc Yasemin Dokudag, were charged with “praising a criminal, insulting religious values and damaging a mosque” after they attended to protestors who had been taken to the Bezm-I Alem Valide Sultan Mosque in Istanbul after suffering contusions and broken bones in clashes with security forces.

A/Professor Owler said the doctors were “doing what they trained to do – care for the injured”.

He said the Federal Government should demonstrate support for the principle of medical neutrality by officially requesting that Turkish authorities drop the case against the doctors.

“Throughout the world, in times of peace and conflict, doctors must be allowed to care for those in need, impartially and without discrimination, and without fear of persecution or punishment for complying with their ethical obligations,” the AMA President said.

“The AMA and the WMA have particular concerns about a new Turkish health law that criminalises emergency medical care and requires routine reporting of all confidential patient information to state authorities.”

Late last month the AMA National Conference unanimously adopted a resolution advocating the right of doctors to render care without fear of persecution and calling on Turkish authorities to drop the legal action against the two doctors and scrap the new health law.

There is mounting international concern over the treatment of Dr Yuksel and Dr Dokudag, which has been the subject of protests from the WMA and 10 other international medical organisations.

A/Professor Owler said that support for the Turkish doctors would “send a strong signal to the world that doctors and other health professionals should not be impeded in their duty of care to the sick and injured”.

In addition to its representations to Mr Abbott, the AMA has written to the President of the Republic of Sudan, Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir, about the plight of Dr Ibrahim, and has expressed its concerns about the treatment of the two Turkish doctors directly with the Turkish Ambassador to Australia, Reha Keskintepe.

Adrian Rollins